When Procedure is Used
Breast biopsies are conducted to examine tissue that is suspicious or concerning and to determine whether cancer is present. You or your doctor may have felt a lump in your breast or a mammogram may show something suspicious. An ultrasound or MRI may also have shown areas of concern. Once your doctor has removed some of the cells or tissue, it can be sent to a lab for further evaluation. If there is concern that cancer may have spread beyond the concerning lump or mass and into the lymphatic system, the doctor will also biopsy the sentinel nodes because they are where a tumor will first spread.
There are many ways to collect cells or tissue from the breast. Some involve only the use of a needle to remove cells or a small core of tissue. Others require incisions. If your surgeon is going to remove a larger portion of a mass in your breast, you will be given sedation, local anesthetic, or general anesthesia for the procedure. The surgeon will locate the mass either by feeling for it or using the assistance of a radiologist if the mass can’t be felt. If at all possible, the whole mass will be removed. If the tissue shows evidence of cancerous cells, the lab will examine it to make sure none of them are left in your breast at the margins, or edges, of the mass.
If your doctor thinks you need a sentinel node biopsy, you are more likely to receive general anesthesia so that you are asleep during the procedure. In addition to taking part of the tissue in your breast, your surgeon will also remove the sentinel nodes near your breast. Prior to their removal, the nodes may have been dyed blue so that your surgeon can find them easily and/or you may have had a weak radioactive solution injected near the nodes. During this part of the procedure, your surgeon will make an incision over the area of the nodes, locate them, and remove them.
The risk of complications is very low. However, potential risks might include
- bruising and swelling
- allergic reaction to medications
- altered breast appearance
- There are multiple ways to conduct a breast biopsy, and each has its own risks and benefits. You will have an opportunity to discuss with your doctor the biopsy procedure that is best suited to your individual circumstances.