What is a breast biopsy?

Your doctor will order a biopsy if a test — such as physical exam or a mammogram — shows a mass or abnormality. While this can be frightening, a mass doesn't necessarily signal cancer. However, a biopsy is the only way to know for sure.

During a biopsy, a small piece of your breast tissue is removed and examined in a lab by a pathologist to see if cancer cells are present.

What types of breast biopsies are done at Penn Medicine?

At Penn Medicine, we perform several different types of breast biopsies, including:

  • Stereotactic core biopsy
  • Surgical biopsy, also known as open biopsy
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy

How can I prepare for a breast biopsy?

Usually, limited preparation is needed for a breast biopsy. You should tell your doctor about any medications you are taking and bring any results from recent breast imaging (mammograms or ultrasounds), so he or she can review them before the procedure. Your care team will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for your biopsy, based on which procedure you will have.

Is anesthesia used during a breast biopsy?

Whether or not you will need anesthesia depends on the type of biopsy. For non-surgical biopsies, such as fine-needle aspiration biopsy and stereotactic core breast biopsy, we usually don’t use anesthesia or local anesthesia. For surgical biopsies, we often use a local anesthesia, but some patients may require general anesthesia. Breast biopsies are most often performed as an outpatient procedure.

What can I learn from my biopsy results?

A pathologist will review the tissue sample taken from your breast during the biopsy. He or she will develop a report — it can take several days — and send it to your doctor. The report will show whether cancer cells were found in your breast.

If cancer cells are found, the pathology report will help you and your doctor make informed decisions about next steps and treatment. You will likely be referred for further testing to determine the stage of the cancer, which will help us create a treatment plan that’s best for you.

If the report shows that the cells in a lump are benign or noncancerous, you still might require follow-up treatment as recommended by your doctor.

Back To Top
Share This Page: