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Open Breast Biopsy: Before Your Surgery

Before and after breast biopsy

What is an open breast biopsy?

An open breast biopsy is surgery to take a sample of breast tissue. It may be done to check a lump found during a breast examination. Or it may be done to check an area of concern found on a mammogram or ultrasound.

If the doctor can't feel the lump, a small wire can be put in the area during a mammogram or ultrasound just before surgery. The tip of the wire will guide the doctor to the area to be checked.

The doctor will make a small cut in the breast to remove a piece of tissue. The cut is called an incision. If the lump or suspicious area is small, the doctor may be able to take out the entire lump or area. The doctor will close the incision with stitches.

The breast tissue will be sent to a lab. There it will be examined under a microscope to check for breast cancer. Your doctor may get some answers right away. But it can take up to 1 to 2 weeks to get the final results.

You will be able to go home on the same day as the biopsy. Most women are able to go back to work in 1 or 2 days. This depends on how you feel and the type of work you do. For 2 weeks after surgery, you will need to avoid bouncing and strenuous activities that involve the upper body.

The surgery will leave a small scar on your breast that will fade with time. Less often, the surgery may leave a dent in the breast. You may be able to feel a hard area where the biopsy was done. This is a normal part of the healing process. It does not mean that the lump is growing back. The area will get softer in the weeks after surgery.

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 know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens before surgery?

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.
  • Bring a comfortable, supportive bra with you. For the first 3 days after surgery, you will need to wear this all the time, even at night.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors. If needed, you will get a mammogram or ultrasound to mark the area.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 1 hour.

Going home

  • Be sure you have someone to drive you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery. They will cover things like diet, wound care, follow-up care, driving, and getting back to your normal routine.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

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.