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Getting a Breast Biopsy

Depending on the results of your physical exam, mammogram, and other tests, your doctor or gynecologist may refer you to a breast disease specialist for further evaluation.

Words to Know

A pathologist is a doctor who examines samples of body tissue and fluid to diagnose disease.

The next step in your diagnosis will often be a biopsy. During a biopsy, a sample of breast fluid or tissue will be removed and tested for disease by a pathologist. While it can be scary to have a doctor tell you that you need a biopsy, it’s important to keep in mind that getting a biopsy doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. In fact, according the American Cancer Society, four out of five women who get breast biopsies do not have cancer.

Biopsies are the most conclusive way of finding out whether an abnormality is cancer. If it is, the tissue taken during a biopsy can also provide important information about the specific type of cancer, whether it’s invasive, and how advanced it is, which helps your doctor determine the most effective course of treatment.

Below are some of the main types of biopsy used to diagnose breast cancer:

In fine needle aspiration, your doctor employs a thin needle to remove cells from a breast lump that can be felt. This type of lump is called a palpable mass. This procedure, which may be performed with local anaesthetic, can help doctors determine whether the mass is a benign fluid-filled cyst or cancer.

Words to Know

Under local anaesthesia or regional anaesthesia only the area being operated is numbed so that you may be awake during the procedure. Under general anaesthesia, you are unconscious for the duration of the operation.

In core needle biopsy, a bigger needle is employed than for fine needle aspiration. Your doctor performs this procedure using a local anesthetic to take a tissue sample from a palpable breast mass or from an area that appears suspicious in a mammogram or other imaging test. This area is called a nonpalpable mass. Ultrasound is often used during this procedure to locate the suspicious area precisely and guide the placement of the needle to draw a tissue sample.

Surgical biopsy may be performed under local or general anaesthesia. The surgeon cuts out part or all of a lump or suspicious area.

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