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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 ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.

Why is this test done?

A breast biopsy is usually done to check a lump or a suspicious area for cancer. 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 is not 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 can you prepare for the test?

Talk to your doctor about all your health conditions before the test. For example, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are taking any medicines.
  • Are allergic to any medicines.
  • Have had any bleeding problems, or if you take aspirin or some other blood thinner.
  • Are or might be pregnant.

What happens before the test?

  • You will take off your clothing above the waist. A paper or cloth gown will cover your shoulders.
  • The biopsy will be done while you sit or lie on an examination table. Your hands may be at your sides or raised above your head (whichever position makes it easiest to find the lump or suspicious area).
  • Your skin is washed with a special soap.
  • You may be given a shot of medicine to numb the biopsy area on your breast.

What happens during the test?

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

  • A warm gel will be spread on your breast.
  • The ultrasound wand is pressed against your skin and gently moved around. 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 a sample of tissue.
  • The needle is removed and pressure put on the needle site to stop any bleeding. The area is covered with a bandage.

What else should you know about the test?

  • 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.

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.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away, but avoid heavy lifting for 24 hours.
  • The site may be tender for 2 or 3 days. You may also have some bruising, swelling, or slight bleeding.
    • 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 (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • 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 are not clear, you may have another biopsy or test.

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 call line 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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