Breast biopsy procedures

A breast biopsy is a minor procedure carried out to remove a small sample of breast tissue for its examination. It is performed to evaluate a suspicious area of the breast, often following an image screening test like a mammography or an ultrasound, to determine the nature of the lesion, whether it is cancer or not.

There are different type of breast biopsy procedures. Almost all of them (except for the excisional biopsy) are done in the doctor’s office.

Fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB): using a thin needle a small amount of tissue is withdrawn to differentiate between a cyst (a fluid-filled sac) from a solid growth (mass or tumor). Ultrasound can be used to guide the needle (in case the breast lump can´t be felt)

Core needle biopsy (CNB): similar to a FNAB, it uses a larger, hollow needle to withdraw small cylinder of tissue. Since it takes more tissue than a FNAB, a CNB is more likely to give a definite result.

Vacuum-assisted core biopsy: after a small skin incision is made, a hollow probe is put into the suspicious area and a piece of breast tissue is pulled into the probe and a rotating knife cuts the sample.

Stereotactic core needle biopsy: uses x-ray equipment and a computer to find the lump the needle has to target. Using mammograms taken from two angles, it pinpoints the exact place where the needle tip needs to go.

Surgical (excisional biopsy): removes all of the lump, as well as a surrounding margin of normal-looking tissue. It is performed under local anesthesia.

Read about the current state of stereotactic breast biopsies.

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