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Breast Biopsy



The possible risks from a breast biopsy include:

  • An infection at the biopsy site. An infection can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Bleeding from the biopsy site.
  • Not getting a sample of the abnormal tissue.
  • Dizziness and fainting.

Call your doctor immediately if:

  • Your pain lasts longer than a week.
  • You have redness, a lot of swelling, bleeding, or pus from the biopsy site.
  • You have a fever.

Core needle and stereotactic breast biopsies may leave a small round scar. Open biopsies leave a small straight line scar. The scar fades over time. A fine-needle biopsy usually does not leave a scar.


A breast biopsy removes a sample of breast tissue that is looked at under a microscope for breast cancer.

Breast biopsy

No abnormal or cancer cells are present.


Breast changes that are not cancer (benign) include:

  • Calcium deposits in the breast.
  • Cysts, which are lumps filled with fluid.
  • Enlarged breast lobules (adenosis), which are small round lumps that sometimes can be felt.
  • Fat necrosis, which are round, firm lumps formed by damaged fatty tissue.
  • Fibrocystic lumps and firm tumors (fibroadenomas).

Breast changes that are not cancer but may increase your risk for cancer include:

  • Abnormal cells in the breast ducts (atypical ductal hyperplasia or ADH).
  • Abnormal cells in the breast lobules (atypical lobular hyperplasia or ALH).
  • Many abnormal cells in the breast lobules (lobular carcinoma in situ or LCIS).

Cancer cells are present.

What Affects the Test

A needle biopsy takes tissue from a small area, so there is a chance that a cancer may be missed.

What To Think About

Most breast lumps are not cancer. But the chance of having a cancerous breast lump is higher after menopause than before menopause.

Some lumpiness of breast tissue is normal. The fibrous tissue in the breast often feels lumpy or bumpy, especially before your menstrual period. This lumpiness (fibrocystic change) is so common in women that doctors now think it is a normal change. These changes usually go away after menopause, but they also may be found in women who are taking hormone therapy following menopause.

Related Information

Other Works Consulted

  • Burstein HJ, et al. (2011). Malignant tumors of the breast. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 9th ed., vol. 3, pp. 1401–1446. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerC. Dale Mercer, MD, FRCSC, FACS - General Surgery
Current as ofAugust 16, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 16, 2013
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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