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.
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.
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.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer in men information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.
Gradishar WJ, et al. Breast cancer in men. UpToDate online. June 2018.
Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment. Clinical Guideline 81. February 2009, updated August 2017.
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist; and Dr Mark Verrill, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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