Breast Cancer Biopsy

Video Topic : Dr. Gillian Newstead, breast radiologist at The University of Chicago Medical Center, discusses the use of MRI to stage breast cancer, which determines the growth and spread of the disease.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives. Breast cancer kills more women in the United States than any cancer except lung cancer. No one knows why some women get breast cancer, but there are a number of risk factors. Risks that you cannot change include

  • Age - the chance of getting breast cancer rises as a woman gets older
  • Genes - there are two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that greatly increase the risk. Women who have family members with breast or ovarian cancer may wish to be tested.
  • Personal factors - beginning periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55

Other risks include being overweight, using hormone replacement therapy (also called menopausal hormone therapy), taking birth control pills, drinking alcohol, not having children or having your first child after age 35 or having dense breasts.

Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in size or shape of the breast or discharge from a nipple. Breast self-exam and mammography can help find breast cancer early when it is most treatable. Treatment may consist of radiation, lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

Men can have breast cancer, too, but the number of cases is small.


A biopsy is a procedure that removes a small piece of living tissue from your body. The tissue is examined with a microscope for signs of damage or disease. Biopsies can be done on all parts of the body. A biopsy is the only test that can tell for sure if a suspicious area is cancer. But biopsies are performed for many other reasons too.

There are different ways to do a biopsy. A needle biopsy removes tissue with a needle passed through your skin to the site of the problem. Other kinds of biopsies require surgery.

NIH: National Cancer Institute

Breast Biopsy

Breast Biopsy: A breast biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of breast cells or tissue, or an entire lump. A pathologist then looks at the sample under a microscope to check for signs of disease. A biopsy is the only way to find out if cells are cancer. Biopsies are usually done in an office or a clinic on an outpatient basis. This means you will go home the same day as the procedure. Local anesthesia is used for some biopsies. This means you will be awake, but you won't feel pain in your breast during the procedure. General anesthesia is often used for a surgical biopsy. This means that you will be asleep and won't wake up during the procedure. Common types of breast biopsies include:

Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: A fine-needle aspiration biopsy is a simple procedure that takes only a few minutes. Your health care provider inserts a thin needle into the breast to take out fluid and cells.

Core biopsy: A core biopsy, also called a core needle biopsy, uses a needle to remove small pieces or cores of breast tissue. The samples are about the size of a grain of rice. You may have a bruise, but usually not a scar.

Vacuum-assisted biopsy: A vacuum-assisted biopsy uses a probe, connected to a vacuum device, to remove a small sample of breast tissue. The small cut made in the breast is much smaller than with surgical biopsy. This procedure causes very little scarring, and no stitches are needed.

Surgical biopsy: A surgical biopsy is an operation to remove part, or all, of a lump so it can be looked at under a microscope to check for signs of disease. Sometimes a doctor will do a surgical biopsy as the first step. Other times, a doctor may do a surgical biopsy if the results of a needle biopsy do not give enough information. When only a sample of breast tissue is removed, it's called an incisional biopsy. When the entire lump or suspicious area is removed, it's called an excisional biopsy.

If the breast change cannot be felt, wire localization, also called needle localization, may be used to find the breast change during a biopsy. During wire localization, a thin, hollow needle is inserted into the breast. A mammogram is taken to make sure that the needle is in the right place. Then a fine wire is inserted through the hollow needle, to mark the area of tissue to be removed. Next, the needle is removed, and another mammogram is taken. You then go to the operating room where the surgeon removes the wire and surrounding breast tissue. The tissue is sent to the lab to be checked for signs of disease.

National Cancer Institute / NIH

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