The Basics of Breast Biopsies

A video-animation presentation about breast biopsies. Both fine needle aspiration and core biopsies are covered. 3D graphics are used to explain the process. Here’s more information from our companion website,

Although mammography can show the presence of a lump or abnormality in the breast tissue, the test cannot distinguish between a benign or malignant lump. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done to provide more details about a suspicious area on a mammogram, and an ultrasound can help distinguish between a fluid-filled cyst (benign) and a solid mass (possibly a cancerous tumor).

A biopsy is the only way to confirm that a lump is a breast cancer. With this procedure, the oncologist or a consulting surgeon removes a sample of cells or tissue from the lump or the entire lump itself. A pathologist will examine the biopsy sample under a microscope to see if signs of cancer are present. There are three types of biopsy:

* Fine-needle aspiration: removal of fluid or some cells from the lump using a thin needle
* Cone needle: removal of tissue from the lump using a wider needle or newer instruments
* Surgical: removal of the entire lump (excisional) or only part of it (incisional)

Fine-needle aspiration is the least invasive method for obtaining cells from a suspicious lump in the breast; it is most often done for a lump that was felt during a clinical breast examination. This type of biopsy is best for distinguishing between a fluid-filled cyst and a solid mass. Tissue samples can be obtained with a core needle biopsy, and this method is the one commonly used for biopsy of a lump that was detected on mammography or another imaging study. If the findings on examination of a sample obtained with a needle biopsy are inconclusive, then a surgical biopsy offers the opportunity to obtain the greatest amount of tissue from the lump. If the entire lump and a rim of normal breast cancer tissue around it are removed during surgical biopsy, the procedure is actually a form of breast cancer treatment (lumpectomy).

The type of biopsy actually done depends on several factors, such as the size or location of the lump, and physicians prefer to use the least invasive method possible).

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