Everything Doctors Want Patients to Know About Breast Biopsy Procedures

The words breast biopsy procedure may sound scary to some women, but they really don’t have to.

Thanks to advances in medical technology, there are less invasive ways of getting a breast tissue sample. While a breast biopsy may seem confusing and leave you with a lot of questions, read on to find some of the answers to common concerns to put your mind at ease.

What is a Breast Biopsy Procedure?

Doctor and patient having discussion

Radiologists may want to get a breast tissue sample to take a closer look at something that showed up on digital mammography or ultrasound.

It’s important to keep in mind that the doctor hasn’t arrived at any sort of diagnosis if they order a biopsy. They just want to be sure what they’re dealing with. Here’s a statistic that might make you feel better: the vast majority (around 75 percent) of lumps found in breasts turn out to be non-cancerous (or benign).

Many of these harmless masses are cysts, which can vary in shape and size and cause alarm. However, these do not have to be surgically removed unless they’re causing you discomfort.

However, it’s important for a doctor to distinguish between a possible tumor and a harmless cyst. A biopsy will help determine that so treatment can start sooner if necessary.

Does a Breast Biopsy Hurt?

The thought of someone entering the breast with a needle or a scalpel may seem daunting, but the tissue sampling itself won’t hurt. There are combinations of sedation and anesthesia used during the procedure to ensure this. There may be some mild discomfort, however. On top of this, you may have some discomfort following the procedure.

How is a Breast Biopsy Done?

There are actually three ways a doctor can go about getting this sample. The least invasive available is the fine-needle aspiration, which only involves some freezing of the breast tissue and taking a small fluid sample with a needle.

Then there’s the core needle sample, which uses a slightly wider needle to extract samples.

There are other types of breast biopsy methods, including a surgical option to get a better look at a suspicious entity. For example, an excisional biopsy will remove the entire suspicious mass.

Fine needle aspiration can be completed as quickly as half an hour, while you can expect an hour or longer for an excisional biopsy.
The breast sample is sent to a pathology lab, who will send results to your doctor so you can discuss any concerns you have.

Will a Breast Biopsy Spread Cancer Cells?

One concern that seems to be shared by many women is whether a breast biopsy will spread the cancer cells if the lump is malignant (cancerous.) However, that’s generally a myth, no matter what type of biopsy you’re getting.

Radiologists and Surgeons use special methods and dedicated surgical tools to ensure the chance of spreading cancer cells is almost non-existent.

How Long Will It Take to Recover?

It really comes down to which type of procedure you had. If you received general anesthesia (you were unconscious during it) then you’ll generally have to wait longer to leave the hospital after the breast biopsy to monitor your blood pressure and other vitals.

However, in many cases with a needle biopsy, you’ll have some minor swelling or bruising at the biopsy site. This can generally be taken care of with an ice pack. The doctor may also advise you not to do anything strenuous for a day or two, as well as avoid showering for a certain length of time. Over the counter pain medications can also help.

What’s the Risk of Scarring?

With the newest less invasive procedures available, you probably won’t notice a big scar on your breast after the biopsy (unless you’re prone to scarring.)

In the cases where a surgical biopsy was needed, you may have a higher risk of scarring. Your breast shape may also change slightly depending on how much tissue needs to be taken for a sample.

Waiting for Your Results

If PINK performs your biopsy, it usually takes 2-3 weekdays before your doctor can discuss the results with you. It may take longer to get the results from a surgical biopsy. If it does take longer, this is not a sign that the results are not good. It allows your doctor to get a better idea of what you’re dealing with, and how to move forward.

In some cases, you may receive a results letter from the lab before you speak with PINK. This is also not a sign. If the biopsy identifies a concern, your doctors will speak with you to select the best treatment plan available.

Breast Cancer Can Be Beaten

Even if you receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, it’s not a reason to lose hope. Breast cancer survival rates (5-year) are around 99 percent when the cancer is contained to the breast. That number is 90 percent for invasive breast cancer after the same length of time.

While breast cancer is the second most deadly cancer in women, breast cancer survival rates have been steadily climbing thanks to early intervention. It’s recommended that women who have an average risk of developing breast cancer receive an annual mammography screening starting at age 40. Your health insurance will pay for this screening exam in full – including 3D mammography in nearly all cases. After age 75, screening could continue or cease, depending on health.

Women are also encouraged to do self-checks for signs of lumps and should tell their doctors immediately if they find something suspicious. If the look and feel of your breasts are changing, you may also want to bring that up with your doctor. PINK now offers a free monthly reminder with instructions for your breast self-exams. Sign up here.

Choosing the Right Cancer Screening

Now that you’re better informed about the subject, you don’t have to put off that breast biopsy because of misinformation or fear. Remember, if you’ve been referred for a biopsy, it doesn’t mean the news is bad.

When searching for a clinic to perform your imaging tests, it makes sense to choose one that also offers a breast biopsy procedure if necessary. That way all your services are delivered under one roof.

Our physicians are experienced in breast imaging and biopsies to provide results and peace of mind. To find out more about PINK’s medical diagnostic imaging centers, contact us today.