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Ultrasound-Guided Breast Biopsy: About This Test

What is it?

A breast biopsy removes a sample of breast tissue that is looked at under a microscope to check for breast cancer. Ultrasound is used to show an image of the breast tissue during the biopsy. This is called an ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.

Why is this test done?

A breast biopsy is most often done to check a breast lump or look at a suspicious area found on a mammogram or other imaging. If there is a good chance that your doctor can get a sample without doing an open (surgical) biopsy, you can have a needle biopsy instead. For a needle breast biopsy, your doctor uses a needle to take a small sample of fluid or cells from the breast for testing.

When the biopsy area isn't easy to find, the breast biopsy needle is usually guided with ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of the inside of the breast. The sound waves create a picture on a video monitor.

How do you prepare for the test?

If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your test. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

How is the test done?

Ultrasound is used to guide the placement of the needle during the biopsy.

  • You may be given a shot of medicine to numb the biopsy area on your breast.
  • A warm gel will be spread on your breast.
  • The ultrasound wand is pressed against your skin and gently moved around to find the place where the mammogram showed a problem. A picture of the breast can be seen on a video monitor.
  • A needle or tiny probe is put through your skin into your breast tissue.
  • If the lump is a cyst, the needle will take out fluid. If the lump is solid, the needle will take samples of tissue.
  • The needle is removed and pressure is put on the needle site to stop any bleeding. The area is covered with a bandage.

How does the test feel?

  • Ultrasound is painless and does not use radiation.
  • You will feel only a quick sting from the needle if you have a local anesthetic to numb the biopsy area. You may feel some pressure when the biopsy needle is put in.

How long does the test take?

The test usually takes about 15 minutes. This depends on how many biopsy samples are needed. But your appointment may take longer than this since it also takes time to prepare before the biopsy. And if you need to be monitored after the biopsy, it may take an extra hour or so.

What happens after the test?

  • You'll be told how long it may take to get your results back.
  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • After a specialist looks at the biopsy sample for signs of cancer, your doctor's office will let you know the results.
  • If the test results aren't clear, you may have another biopsy or test.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • You can go back to most of your usual activities right away. But for the first 24 hours, avoid activities that put pressure on your chest or require you to move your upper body a lot.
  • The site may be tender for 2 or 3 days. You may also have some bruising, swelling, or slight bleeding.
    • You may find it more comfortable to wear a supportive bra or chest binder for the first few days.
    • It may be more comfortable to sleep on your back or on the side that wasn't biopsied.
    • You can use an ice pack. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
    • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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