Breast Biopsy

What is the standard breast biopsy procedure?

A breast biopsy, also known as a breast cancer biopsy, is a medical procedure in which a portion of the breast tissue, usually a lump or other growth under the skin, is removed and examined by a medical pathologist. The goal is to determine whether the tissue is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Breast biopsies can be performed in a number of different settings, including doctors' offices, outpatient facilities and hospitals. Where the procedure is performed is typically determined by the size and location of the growth, as well as the health of the patient. Unless the patient is in poor health, there is rarely a need to remain in hospital overnight following a breast biopsy.

Types of Breast Biopsy

The typical breast biopsy procedure varies slightly depending on the size and location of the growth. The four most common types of breast biopsy are the open excisional biopsy, needle aspiration, axillary node dissection and sentinel node dissection.

An open excisional biopsy is generally performed under local anesthesia and involves making a small incision near the lump and removing either a portion of the lump tissue or, if the lump is small, the entire thing. The incision is then stitched up by the doctor. The procedure takes about an hour and it can take a few weeks for the patient to fully heal.

Needle aspiration is the name given to the process of removing breast lump tissue with a needle. Since no incision is required, this procedure causes no scarring and has a quicker recovery period than the open excisional method. This method is sometimes called a stereotactic breast biopsy, since three-dimensional imaging technology is sometimes used to locate the breast tumor and position the needle. In cases where ultrasound technology is used in place of other imaging technology, the procedure is called an ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.

An axillary node dissection is performed if it is suspected that cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue. This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and involves making an incision under the arm and removing a group of 10 to 20 lymph nodes.

A sentinel node biopsy is similar to an axillary node biopsy, except it's less invasive and carries less risk of infection because only a single lymph node is removed. During a sentinel node biopsy procedure, the patient is injected with dye or a radioactive tracer in the area around the tumor. This dye/tracer fluid is then tracked as it makes its way away from the tumor to the nearest lymph node, which is then removed via a small incision. Due to its proximity to the tumor, the nearest lymph node is thought to be most likely to contain malignant cells.

Breast Biopsy Results

For simple biopsy procedures, such as those involving the extraction of breast tissue via syringe, the results can be available as soon as the next day and certainly within a week. In cases where more complex tests must be performed, the results may not be available until a few weeks after the date of the tissue extraction. Your physician will be able to provide you with a timetable for your results before the procedure is performed.

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Breast Biopsy