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Needle 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.

For a needle breast biopsy, your doctor uses a needle to take a small sample of fluid or cells from the breast for testing.

Why is this test done?

A breast biopsy is usually done to check a lump found during a breast examination or 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. You may have a choice of what kind of biopsy you prefer.

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 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.
  • You will 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 get a shot of medicine to numb the biopsy area on your breast.

What happens during the test?

  • For a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, your doctor inserts a thin needle into the lump or suspicious area. Then he or she removes a sample of cells or fluid.
  • For a core needle biopsy:
    • A small cut is made in your skin.
    • Your doctor inserts a needle with a special tip. Then he or she removes a sample of breast tissue about the size of a grain of rice.
    • About 3 to 12 samples are needed to get the most accurate results.

After either type of biopsy, the needle is removed and pressure is put on the needle site to stop any bleeding. The area is covered with a bandage.

What else should you know about the test?

  • 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.
  • For a core needle biopsy, the small cut for the needle does not usually need stitches.

How long does the test take?

  • A fine-needle aspiration biopsy will take about 5 to 15 minutes.
  • A core needle biopsy will take about 15 minutes.

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 to 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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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.