Overview of Breast Biopsy

A mammogram can show an abnormal change in breast tissue, but only a biopsy can determine whether or not the change is malignant. A biopsy involves removing all or part of the abnormal tissue and sending it to a laboratory for examination.

In the not so distant past, biopsy and mastectomy were done as a one-step procedure. The biopsy was performed while the patient was under general anesthesia, and the tissue was immediately sent to the laboratory for analysis. The patient was kept anesthetized until the surgeon received the results. If the lump was malignant, a mastectomy was performed. The one-step procedure is rarely done today, unless the patient is too frail or ill to undergo repeated anesthesia and surgery. Most patients have time to discuss treatment options, get a second opinion, and make a decision.

Types of Breast Biopsy

There are several types of breast biopsy: open excisional biopsy, axillary node dissection, sentinel node dissection, and needle aspiration. The selection of technique depends on the size, location, and characteristics of the lump and whether or not the lump is palpable (i.e., can be felt externally).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jul 1999

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015