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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Quick GuideBreast Cancer Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

What breast symptoms should I be concerned about?

Females and males (regardless of age) who discover a lump in a breast should see a doctor for testing. They also should see a doctor if they find a lump in an armpit or above a collarbone (either of which could indicate the presence of spreading cancer).

A doctor or health-care professional should be consulted if a person has

  • red or irritated breast skin,
  • scaly skin on the breast,
  • dimpling skin on the breast,
  • swelling breast skin,
  • nipple discharge other than milk,
  • nipple retraction or inversion,
  • nipple itching,
  • a change in the size or shape of a breast, or
  • breast pain.

It is important to remember that these signs and symptoms do not necessarily indicate the presence of cancer.

What should the patient tell the doctor about the growth?

The patient should tell the doctor when the growth appeared, what its size was at the time of discovery compared to its present size, and where it is located. The patient should also outline any family history of breast cancer, as well as any personal history of breast problems of any kind.

How does a physician confirm the presence of a breast growth?

A physician confirms the presence of a growth by taking a medical history (and asking numerous questions), performing a clinical examination that includes palpating (feeling) the breast, and interpreting the results of a diagnostic mammogram and sometimes other imaging studies such as ultrasound or MRI.

Ultrasound sends sound waves into the breast that "bounce" back to a receiver that can record an image on a computer screen to visualize interior structures. This technique can help distinguish between a cyst and a solid growth. The physician may also order the laboratory analysis of any nipple discharge (other than milk) for the presence of atypical or cancerous cells. After confirming the presence of a suspicious growth, the physician orders a biopsy.

Is anesthesia needed for a breast biopsy?

For nonsurgical biopsies, the patient may need no anesthesia at all or just a local anesthesia (one that numbs the suspicious area only). Sometimes, a patient receives a sedative (calming drug) with the local anesthesia.

For surgical biopsies, the patient may receive a local anesthesia (with or without a sedative) or general anesthesia (one that induces sleep). Patients requiring general anesthesia may have to fast eight to 12 hours before undergoing a biopsy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/5/2016

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