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 a 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.

Mammography is a special form of X-ray used on the breasts. It’s recommended as a preventive screening tool for breast cancer in people 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, though they are often benign.

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 they discovered a lump during a physical exam.

There are a few different breast biopsy techniques including:

  • stereotactic (mammographically guided) breast 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 can be used in a number of situations. It’s often used when small growths or accumulations of calcium called calcifications are detected on a mammogram, but don’t appear on an ultrasound and aren’t felt during a physical exam.

It’s less invasive than a surgical biopsy, requires less recovery time, and causes minimal scarring.

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 ones, 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’re concerned about this.

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. Wearing a bra can 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 through 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.

They will take a sample of breast tissue using a needle or a probe attached to a vacuum. They’ll remove several small tissue samples and send them to a pathology laboratory for testing.

After taking the samples, the doctor or technician will apply pressure to the area to prevent bleeding and then cover it 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 breast surgery.

There won’t likely be too much pain during the procedure, though it can vary based on a few factors. People have reported more pain when they are of younger age and when they anticipated pain prior to the procedure, which may indicate a psychological component.

Though most people don’t feel discomfort from lying down, some doctors can perform an upright stereotactic breast biopsy, which could alleviate this discomfort.

After the procedure, you may experience:

  • bruising
  • soreness
  • swelling

Ice and over-the-counter pain relievers can help.

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 100.4°F (38°C) or experience redness, warmth, or discharge from the site. These are all signs of infection.

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

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

Following your doctor’s instructions on how to care for your wound 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 they can consider alternative biopsy methods.

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 treatment can begin.

Though it’s never fun to have additional tests done to detect abnormalities, it’s important to help your doctor find out as much as they can about what’s going on.

A stereotactic breast biopsy is a relatively simple procedure that can be beneficial toward getting a diagnosis and treatment as early as possible.

Work with your doctor to address any concerns you have about the procedure, the cost, or the results.