What is a stereotactic breast biopsy?

A stereotactic breast biopsy is a procedure that uses mammography to precisely identify and biopsy an abnormality within the breast. It’s normally done when the radiologist sees a suspicious abnormality on your mammogram that can’t be felt in a physical exam. This procedure will help determine whether you have breast cancer or any other abnormalities in your breast to be concerned about.

A mammography is a special form of X-ray used on the breasts. It’s recommended as a preventative screening tool for breast cancer in women over the age of 40.

Stereotactic breast biopsies use mammographic X-rays to locate and target the area of concern and to help guide the biopsy needle to a precise location. This technique helps ensure that the area that is biopsied is the exact area where the abnormality was seen on the mammogram. It’s called stereotactic because it utilizes two images taken from slightly different angles of the same location.

After the sample is collected, it’s sent to a pathology lab to determine if there are cancer cells present.

A breast biopsy is typically done to investigate irregularities such as a lump in the breast. A breast lump may be cause for concern. However, according to Mayo Clinic, breast lumps are often benign (noncancerous).

A breast biopsy is typically done if your doctor becomes concerned following a mammogram or breast ultrasound. Your doctor may also order these tests if a lump was discovered during a physical exam.

There are a few different biopsy techniques including:

  • stereotactic core biopsy
  • fine needle aspiration (FNA)
  • excisional and needle wire localization biopsy

Your medical team will recommend one of these depending on the type of breast lesion you have.

A stereotactic biopsy is often used when small growths or accumulations of calcium called calcifications are detected on a mammogram, but don’t appear on an ultrasound and can’t be felt on a physical exam of the breast. It’s less invasive than a surgical biopsy, requires less recovery time, and causes minimal scarring.

A stereotactic breast biopsy is a relatively simple and low-risk procedure. However, it does carry these risks:

  • bruising and swelling of the breast
  • infection of the biopsy site
  • soreness at the injection site

If you follow your doctor’s instructions on how to care for your wound, you will greatly reduce your risk of infection.

If you’re pregnant or concerned you may be pregnant, radiation from the X-rays may be harmful to your unborn child. Be sure to tell your doctor so alternative biopsy methods can be considered.

Complications from a biopsy are rare. The risks associated with the procedure are outweighed by the benefits of having potentially cancerous calcifications inspected. Remember, the quicker breast cancer is detected, the faster your treatment can begin.

Before your breast biopsy, tell your doctor about any allergies you have, especially any history of allergic reactions to anesthesia. Also, be sure to mention any medications you may be taking, including over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or supplements.

During the test, you could be lying on your stomach for up to an hour. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that will be a problem for you.

You’ll be asked to change into a hospital gown. You should avoid using any type of moisturizer on your breasts and remove all jewelry and any body piercings before the biopsy.

You might be given a cold pack after the procedure to help with pain and inflammation. Wear a bra to help keep the cold pack in place.

Before the procedure begins, you will have to undress from the waist up.

You’ll lie face down on a padded table with a hole in it. Your breast will drop into this hole.

The table will rise several feet in the air so your radiologist can access your breast though the hole in the table. They will then use two plates to firmly compress your breast. This allows them to get X-ray pictures of your breast and identify the abnormalities in the breast tissue.

This part of the procedure can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

After the proper images are taken, a small area of your breast will be injected with local anesthesia. Then the radiologist will make a small nick in your breast.

A sample of breast tissue will be taken using a needle or a probe attached to a vacuum. Several small tissue samples will be removed and sent to a pathology laboratory for testing.

After the samples are taken, the doctor or technician will apply pressure to the area to prevent bleeding and then cover the area with surgical tape to keep it closed and prevent infection. A small metal clip or bracket may be left in the place where the biopsy was done, so it can easily be located again if more testing is needed, or if you go on to have a breast surgery.

You’ll be able to go home after your stereotactic breast biopsy.

The samples of your tissue will be sent to a pathology laboratory. It may take up to a week for them to be properly analyzed.

You’ll be given instructions on how to care for the biopsy site at home. This includes keeping it clean and changing the bandages to prevent infection.

You should contact your doctor if you develop a fever over 100°F (38°C) or experience redness, warmth, or discharge from the site. These are all signs of infection.