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Breast Surgical Biopsy

(Biopsy, Breast Surgical; Breast Open Biopsy; Biopsy, Breast Open; Breast Needle Localization; Localization, Breast Needle)
  • Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.
  • Definition

    Breast surgical biopsy is when the doctor makes a cut in the breast to remove all or part of a mass. The mass is examined in a lab.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    Breast surgical biopsy is done to examine a suspicious area in the breast. It may be done if any of the following are found:
    • Lump
    • Tissue thickening
    • Nipple abnormality
    • Discharge from the nipple
    • Abnormal ultrasound or mammogram image
    The biopsy can identify the area as either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
  • Possible Complications

    Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a biopsy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Bruising
    • Scarring
    • Tissue damage
    • Breast deformity
    • Numbness over the biopsy area
    Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
    • Smoking
    • Poor nutrition
    • Chronic illnesses, such as obesity or diabetes
    • Bleeding disorders
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    Your doctor may do the following:
    • Physical exam, especially a breast exam
    • Blood tests
    • Mammogram and/or breast ultrasound
    Leading up to the biopsy:
    • Talk to your doctor about your current medications. Certain medication may need to be stopped before the procedure.
    • Eat a light meal the night before your procedure. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
    • Shower the morning of the biopsy. You may be asked to use a special antibacterial soap.
    You may receive the following types of anesthesia:
    • Local anesthesia—Only the area that is being operated on is numbed.
    • General anesthesia —You will be asleep during the procedure.
    Description of the Procedure
    There are different ways the doctor can remove the mass from your breast:
    Open Breast Biopsy
    You will be given either general or local anesthesia. The skin over the area will be cleaned. A small cut will be made over the area. A sample of the tissue or all of the mass will be removed. The site will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be applied.
    Open Breast Biopsy
    nucleus factsheet image
    If all of the mass is removed, then this type of biopsy may be referred to as a lumpectomy .
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Open Breast Biopsy
    nucleus factsheet image
    If all of the mass is removed, then this type of biopsy may be referred to as a lumpectomy .
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Needle Localization
    This technique will be used if the mass is too deep to be felt, but it can be seen with imaging tests. After the mass is located, a fine wire will be placed into your breast. The wire will point to the spot that needs to be biopsied. A small cut will be made in the area and the mass will be removed.
    How Long Will It Take?
    1-3 hours
    Will It Hurt?
    Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
    Post-procedure Care
    At Home
    It will take about 2-5 days to receive your test results. Home care will include using medications or taking self-care measures to reduce discomfort. The care staff will give instructions on how to change any bandages. Doing this will help reduce the chance of infection. Don't return to normal activities until your doctor says it is okay to do so.
  • Call Your Doctor

    Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the biopsy site
    • Persistent nausea and/or vomiting
    • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
    • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
    • Pain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs
    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

    American Cancer Society

    Breast Cancer


    Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

    Canadian Cancer Society


    Biopsy. Breast Cancer website. Available at: Updated September 17, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2013.

    Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 17, 2013. Accessed January 22, 2013.

    Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC. Procedures for Primary Care Physicians. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book; 1994.

    Sabiston DC, Lyerly HK. Textbook of Surgery. 15th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co.; 1997.

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