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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Suspicious Mammogram Result: Now What?

What to expect when you need to get additional diagnostic tests.

If You Need a Biopsy

A biopsy, if needed, will typically be scheduled for another day within the next week. Many breast biopsies are done on an outpatient basis.

During the biopsy, a small amount of tissue or fluid will be removed from your breast for examination under a microscope. Depending on the size and location of the abnormality and other factors, the doctor will most likely choose one of the following types of biopsies:

Fine needle aspiration biopsy. The doctor inserts a very thin, hollow needle through the skin to remove a small amount of fluid or tissue from the suspicious area in the breast. You may or may not receive a local anesthetic first. In most cases, the doctor uses ultrasound equipment to help them guide the needle into the area that needs to be biopsied. You might have a little bruising after the procedure, but you won’t need stitches.

Core needle biopsy. Using a slightly larger, hollow needle, the doctor removes several tissue samples from the suspicious area in the breast. Before inserting this needle, the doctor will numb the targeted area with local anesthetic. You’ll feel a brief stinging sensation when the local anesthetic is injected. The doctor will usually use ultrasound equipment or other imaging equipment to guide the needle to the target area. After a core needle biopsy, you won’t need stitches but you may have a small scar and possibly some bruising.

Surgical biopsy. The surgeon makes an incision and removes all or part of the abnormal tissue. This procedure may be done under general anesthesia or you may be given a local anesthetic and a medicine that will make you drowsy. (Bring a friend to drive you home afterward.) Typically, stitches will be used to close the skin and you’ll have a small scar. You may feel sore for a few days after the surgery and your doctor may give you a prescription for pain medication. Surgical biopsies aren’t performed as often as needle biopsies, but they’re required in certain situations. "A surgical biopsy might be needed, for example, if the doctor can’t do a core biopsy because the patient has calcifications that are very close to the nipple," says Stephen F. Sener, MD, professor of clinical surgery and chief of the division of breast and soft tissue surgery at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

After the biopsy, your breast tissue will be sent to a lab and a doctor called a pathologist will examine it under a microscope. The pathologist will determine whether or not cancer cells are present. The results of the biopsy are usually available within a week and your doctor will go over them with you. If you need additional tests or treatment, you may be referred to a breast specialist or surgeon.

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