A breast biopsy is a simple medical procedure in which a sample of breast tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. A breast biopsy is the best way to evaluate if a suspicious lump or portion of your breast is cancerous.

It’s important to remember that breast lumps aren’t always cancerous. There are several conditions that can cause lumps or growths in the breast. A breast biopsy can help determine if a lump in your breast is cancerous or benign, which means noncancerous.

A breast biopsy is typically performed to investigate a lump in the breast. Most breast lumps are noncancerous.

Your doctor will usually order a biopsy if they are concerned about the results of a mammogram or breast ultrasound, or if a lump was found during a physical exam.

A biopsy may also be ordered if there are changes in your nipple, including:

  • bloody discharge
  • crusting
  • dimpling skin
  • scaling

These are all symptoms of a tumor in the breast.

Although a breast biopsy is relatively simple and its risks are low, every surgical procedure carries a risk. Some possible side effects of a breast biopsy include:

  • an altered appearance of your breast, depending on the size of the tissue removed
  • bruising of the breast
  • swelling of the breast
  • soreness at the biopsy site
  • an infection of the biopsy site

These side effects are typically temporary. If they persist, they can be treated. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for care after the biopsy. This will greatly reduce your chance of infection.

Complications from a biopsy are rare. The benefits of having your potentially cancerous lump inspected far outweigh the risks from the procedure.

The sooner breast cancer is detected, the faster that treatment can begin. This will greatly improve your overall outlook.

Before your breast biopsy, tell your doctor about any allergies you may have, especially any history of allergic reactions to anesthesia. Also tell your doctor about any medications you may be taking, including over-the-counter drugs, like aspirin (which may cause your blood to thin) or supplements.

If your doctor recommends an MRI, tell them about any electronic devices implanted in your body, like a pacemaker. Also, tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or concerned you may be pregnant.

Consider wearing a bra to your appointment. You may be given a cold pack after the procedure to help with pain and inflammation. Your bra will help keep the cold pack in place.

Before the breast biopsy, your doctor will examine your breast. This could include:

  • a physical examination
  • an ultrasound
  • a mammogram
  • an MRI scan

During one of these tests, your doctor may place a thin needle or wire into the area of the lump so the surgeon can easily find it. You’ll be given local anesthesia to numb the area around the lump.

There are several ways a surgeon can take a sample of breast tissue. These include:

Fine needle biopsy

During a fine needle biopsy, you’ll lie on a table while your surgeon inserts a small needle and syringe into the lump and extracts a sample. This helps determine the difference between a liquid-filled cyst and a solid mass lump.

Core needle biopsy

A core needle biopsy is similar to a fine needle biopsy. During this procedure, your doctor uses a larger needle to collect several samples, each about the size of a grain of rice.

Stereotactic biopsy

During a stereotactic biopsy, you’ll lie face down on a table with a hole in it. The table is electrically powered, and it can be raised. In this way, your surgeon can work underneath the table while your breast is firmly placed between two plates. Your surgeon will make a small incision and remove samples with a needle or a vacuum-powered probe.

MRI-guided core needle biopsy

During an MRI-guided core needle biopsy, you’ll lie face down on a table with your breast in a depression on the table. An MRI machine will provide images that guide the surgeon to the lump. A small incision is made, and a sample is taken with a core needle.

Surgical biopsy

A surgical biopsy involves the surgical removal of a breast mass. Afterward, the sample is sent to the hospital laboratory. At the laboratory, they’ll examine the edges to ensure the entire lump was removed if it’s cancerous. A metal marker may be left in your breast to monitor the area in the future.

You’ll likely be able to go home following the procedure. The samples from your biopsy will be sent to a laboratory. It will usually take just a few days for them to be properly analyzed.

You’ll need to care for the biopsy site by keeping it clean and changing bandages. Your doctor will instruct you about how to care for your wound properly.

If any of the following occur, you should contact your doctor:

  • a fever of over 100°F (38°C)
  • redness at the biopsy site
  • warmth at the biopsy site
  • discharge from the site

These may be signs of infection.

Your test results can come back as benign, precancerous, or cancerous.

If the sample is cancerous, the biopsy results will also be able to reveal the type of cancer. Types of breast cancer that can be detected include:

Your doctor will use the type of cancer and other information from the biopsy to help plan your treatment. This may include one or more of the following:

However, several noncancerous conditions can also cause lumps in the breast. They include:

It’s important to remember that having a lump in your breast doesn’t automatically mean you have cancer. Talk to your doctor if you discover a lump in your breast, and they will determine if you should have a breast biopsy.