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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 continued...

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.

Putting Your Mind at Ease

Many women feel anxious and uncertain while they’re getting follow-up exams and waiting for test results.

Doctors say that learning about the tests and writing down questions to bring to your appointments can help you feel calmer and more in control. They also recommend asking someone you trust to act as a second set of ears when you talk with your doctor.

"I think it's very helpful to bring a friend or family member with you to your appointments for comfort and also because they can listen to what the physician is saying and take notes," Adams says.

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Reviewed on September 13, 2011

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