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Breast Biopsy, Explained

If you’ve had a mammogram and now need a breast biopsy, you probably have questions. Here’s what to know about the procedure.

Breast biopsy explained, woman holding breast cancer awareness ribbon

If a mammogram or other tests show something unusual in your breast—such as a suspicious mass, an abnormal change in your breast tissue, or a tiny cluster of small calcium deposits called microcalcifications—your doctor might refer you for a stereotactic breast biopsy. Here is what you need to know about this procedure.

Q. What is a stereotactic breast biopsy?

A. Breast biopsies, in general, involve removing cells that are examined under a microscope for signs of cancer. During a stereotactic breast biopsy, a radiologist uses a special mammography machine to guide a biopsy needle to the site of the suspicious area in your breast.

A stereotactic breast biopsy is less invasive than a surgical biopsy—in which all or part of a lump is removed for testing—and it's done on an outpatient basis.

Related: Your Comprehensive Guide to Breast Cancer

Q. How is it done?

A. You'll undress from the waist up. In most cases, you'll be asked to lie face down on a table. The table will be raised, and the biopsy will be performed underneath it. (In some cases, the biopsy may be done while you sit in a chair.) Your breast will be compressed to hold it in position. The radiologist will numb your breast with a local anesthetic.

Guided by mammography images, the radiologist will insert a needle into the suspicious area in your breast and remove multiple tissue samples. He or she may place a small metal clip in your breast at the biopsy site so that it can be located, if needed, for a surgical biopsy in the future. The tissue samples are then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The biopsy itself shouldn't be too painful. The entire process takes about an hour. You may have some bruising and swelling afterward, and you should avoid strenuous activity for at least 24 hours after the biopsy.

It's important to keep in mind that having a biopsy doesn't automatically mean you have breast cancer. In fact, most biopsy results are not cancer. But a biopsy is the only way to make a diagnosis.

Verify your benefits before having this type of procedure so you’ll have a better idea of what your plan will cover. 

For information on our medical and dental plans, visit selecthealth.org/plans.

Related: Getting an Annual Mammogram Could Save Your Life


References: American Cancer Society; National Institutes of Health; Radiological Society of North America

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