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Women's Health

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Breast Biopsy

A breast biopsy removes a sample of breast tissuecamera.gif that is looked at under a microscope to check for breast cancer. A breast biopsy is usually done to check a lump found during a breast examination or a suspicious area found on a mammogram, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

There are several ways to do a breast biopsy. The sample of breast tissue will be looked at under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy. Your doctor inserts a thin needle into a lump and removes a sample of cells or fluid.
  • Core needle biopsy. Your doctor inserts a needle with a special tip and removes a sample of breast tissue about the size of a grain of rice.
  • Vacuum-assisted core biopsy. This is done with a probe that uses a gentle vacuum to remove a small sample of breast tissue. The single small cut doesn't require stitches and leaves a very small scar.
  • Open (surgical) biopsy. Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin and breast tissue to remove part or all of a lump. This may be done as a first step to check a lump or if a needle biopsy doesn't provide enough information.

If needed, your doctor may use ultrasound or MRI to guide the biopsy needle. Or your doctor may use a computer to locate the exact spot for the biopsy sample from mammograms that have been taken from two angles (stereotactic needle biopsy). A fine wire, clip, or marker also may be used to mark the site.

Why It Is Done

A breast biopsy checks to see if a breast lump or a suspicious area seen on a mammogram is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Testing a biopsy sample is the only reliable way to find out if cancer cells are present.

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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