Breast Biopsy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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There are several different types of breast biopsies, depending upon the location and size of the breast lump.

Vacuum-Assisted Breast Biopsy

Different systems for performing the vacuum-assisted biopsy have been developed by different companies, but all involve the placement of a biopsy probe using radiology imaging studies for guidance. Mammograms taken from different angles (stereotactic mammography), ultrasound, and MRI have all been successfully used to identify the abnormal areas to be sampled by vacuum-assisted breast biopsy. Once the biopsy probe has been positioned, a vacuum pulls the breast tissue through an opening in the probe into the sampling chamber of the device. Then a rotating cutting device in the instrument removes the tissue sample, which is carried through the biopsy probe to a tissue collection receptacle.

Quick GuideBreast Cancer Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer

Breast biopsy facts

  • A breast biopsy procedure is usually done to determine whether a growth in the breast is cancerous or benign.
  • A lump or other sign of breast cancer in a man or woman may warrant a breast biopsy.
  • A breast biopsy can be done with a needle or by a surgical procedure.
  • Nonsurgical biopsies tend to be less stressful and minimize the risk of complications.
  • Nonsurgical biopsies are not always as reliable as surgical biopsies in producing a conclusive diagnosis.
  • The breast biopsy may be done with imaging guidance.

What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a procedure in which part or all of a suspicious area in the breast is removed and examined, usually for the presence of cancer. The growth sample is suctioned out through a needle or cut out using a surgical procedure. A pathologist then examines and evaluates it under a microscope to identify noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) tissue.

Words used to refer to the abnormal area or growth before and after diagnosis may include lump, mass, lesion, calcification, and tumor.

Imaging studies such as mammography or ultrasound may be used to guide the procedure.

The following are the different types of breast biopsy procedures:

  • Fine-needle aspiration: a thin needle is used to suction out cells from an abnormal area
  • Hollow or core needle: This thicker needle is used to remove a small cylinder of tissue from the abnormal area.
  • Biopsy with a vacuum-powered device
  • Surgical excision of tissue

What is the purpose of a breast biopsy?

The breast biopsy is used to determine whether or not a worrisome abnormality or area of calcification is cancer and, if it is cancer, what type it is and how to develop a treatment plan. When no cancer is detected, the diagnosis of a benign or harmless lump is reassuring.

What specialties of physicians and other health-care professionals perform breast biopsies?

Many physicians and health-care professionals can be involved in evaluating a woman for a breast biopsy.

  • For example, breast abnormalities during a physical examination might be noticed by a family physician, internist, gynecologist, or nurse practitioner. Women themselves are frequently the first to detect abnormalities in their breasts.
  • Radiologists are specialists in interpreting X-rays such as mammograms, as well as other imaging studies. Radiologists or surgeons often perform the procedure to obtain these breast tissue samples.
  • Anesthesiologists (specialists in administering anesthesia and monitoring a patient's vital signs) are sometimes necessary during some surgical procedures.
  • Pathologists are physician specialists who examine and identify under a microscope the type of cells in the samples and determine whether or not cancer is present.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/5/2016

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