At some point in your life, you may have a lump or change in your breast or an abnormal finding on a mammogram. To make sure it’s not breast cancer, you will have follow-up tests.
If cancer can’t be ruled out, you will need to have a biopsy. A biopsy removes cells or tissue from the suspicious area of the breast. The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
A biopsy is the only test that can diagnose and confirm breast cancer.
Learn more about follow-up after an abnormal mammogram or clinical breast exam.
Try not to panic or worry
Although a biopsy can be scary, most breast biopsies in the U.S. don’t show cancer .
Still, a biopsy is needed to know whether or not something is cancer.
If breast cancer is found, it can be treated. With standard treatment, most people with breast cancers found early have a good prognosis (high chance of survival).
Learn about breast cancer treatment.
Types of biopsies
There are 2 main types of biopsies:
- Needle biopsies. A health care provider removes tissue or cells with a needle.
- Surgical biopsies. A surgeon makes a cut (incision) in the breast to remove tissue.
A core needle biopsy (a type of needle biopsy) is the standard method used to diagnose breast cancer. In some cases, a surgical biopsy may be needed.
Learn more about each type of biopsy in Figure 4.1.
Can a biopsy miss breast cancer?
In some cases, a biopsy can miss breast cancer.
How can a needle biopsy miss breast cancer?
A needle biopsy can miss breast cancer if the needle takes a sample of tissue or cells from the wrong area or if there’s a problem with the sample.
Even when samples are taken from the correct area, false negative results can occur if the pathologist misinterprets the tissue or cells as benign (not cancer) when in fact, cancer is present.
How can a surgical biopsy miss breast cancer?
With surgical biopsies, it’s less likely breast cancer will be missed.
However, a surgical biopsy can miss breast cancer if the wrong area of tissue is removed.
The use of needle- and wire-localization procedures before the biopsy and X-rays of tissue samples after the biopsy help limit this problem.
Getting a second opinion
Breast cancer is complex. You may want to get a second opinion before your biopsy, or after, when you have the results.
Most health plans allow you to get a second opinion as long as the second health care provider is a member of your health plan.
Learn more about getting a second opinion.
Breast biopsies do not cause cancer to spread
Exposing breast cancer to air during surgery or cutting through the cancer does not cause it to spread [2-4].
Surgical and needle biopsies do not cause breast cancer to spread [2-4].
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