Preparing for Surgery: Breast Biopsy

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The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 22, 2002

About Breast Biopsy

Rena Rowan Breast CenterThis "Helpful Facts" sheet is designed to give you basic information on breast biopsy. More detailed information can be provided by your doctor or nurse. If you have other questions or would like additional information, please talk to your doctor or nurse.

What is a breast biopsy?
A biopsy is a surgical procedure that removes a sample of tissue from the body. The tissue is examined under the microscope by a pathologist to determine if there is cancer present. Pathologists are physicians who are specially trained to diagnose diseases using tissue or other samples from the body.

When is a breast biopsy recommended?
A biopsy is typically recommended when a surgeon finds a suspicious breast lump or abnormality. It will help your doctor to determine if a breast lump is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A biopsy is done after you have had a physical examination by the surgeon, a mammogram, an x-ray of the breast, and/or ultrasound (a study done in Radiology that uses waves to take pictures of the inside of your body). The biopsy is used to make a precise diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that is best for you. If no lump can be felt on physical exam you may require a needle localization procedure in order to perform the biopsy. Please refer to Helpful Facts sheet on Needle Localization Biopsy.

What is an excisional biopsy?
An excisional biopsy involves the removal of the entire lump in your breast. This is usually done as an outpatient procedure (Ambulatory Procedure Unit). In surgery, you will be given sedation through a needle in your arm to make you sleep through the procedure. You will also be given a local anesthetic to numb your breast. An incision (cut) is then made above the lump. The breast lump is removed, and sent to pathology for review. A dressing is then placed over your incision and you will be taken to the post anesthesia care unit (PACU) to recover. In general, you can expect to be in the operating room for 60 to 90 minutes and in the PACU for about 1-2 hours.

What are the risks of this procedure?
All surgery involves risk. Your surgeon will discuss the risks of the biopsy with you. There can be some scarring or change in the shape of the breast, depending on the size and location of the lump.

Your surgeon will discuss what you can expect. Other risks and complications associated with breast surgery are listed below:

  • Wound infection: Infections are not common but when they occur they are usually easily treated with antibiotics
  • Poor wound (incision) healing: Although uncommon, blood and/or clear fluid can collect in the breast/wound area. This might require drainage of the blood or fluid.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding during or after an excisional biopsy is rare
  • Reactions to anesthesia: There are always risks associated with anesthesia, such as breathing problems or a reaction to the medications used for anesthesia. However, these risks are low.

When do i learn the results?
It takes approximately 5 to7 working days to get pathology results. The results will be discussed with you at your first post-operative visit.