If an abnormal area is found in the breast tissue, the doctor will need to take a sample of cells (biopsy).

What is a breast biopsy?

If an abnormal area is found in the breast tissue, the doctor will need to take a sample of cells (biopsy). The doctor removes a small piece of tissue or a sample of cells from the lump or abnormal area. A doctor who specialises in studying cells (pathologist) looks at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

For a few days after the biopsy, your chest may feel sore and bruised. Taking painkillers will help with this. Any bruising will go away in a couple of weeks.

There are different ways of taking a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain the type you will have.

Fine needle aspiration (FNA)

This is a quick, simple test. The doctor or a specialist nurse puts a very fine needle into the area and withdraws a sample of cells into a syringe.

Needle (core) biopsy

The doctor or a specialist nurse will do this test. They use a needle to take small pieces of tissue from the lump or abnormal area. Before taking the biopsy, they inject some local anaesthetic into the area to numb it. They may use ultrasound or a mammogram to help guide the needle to the right place.

You may feel a little pain or a sensation of pressure for a short time during the biopsy. They can take several samples at the same time.

Excision biopsy

Sometimes it is not possible to remove enough tissue to make a diagnosis with a needle biopsy. In this case, you may need a small operation. You will be referred to a specialist breast surgeon to have an excision biopsy under a general anaesthetic.

The surgeon makes a cut in the skin of the breast and takes a biopsy of the breast tissue. You usually go home on the day of your operation. But some people may need to stay in hospital overnight.

Usually, you have stitches that dissolve and do not need to be removed.

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