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  • Breast Surgical Biopsy

    (Biopsy, Breast Surgical; Breast Open Biopsy; Biopsy, Breast Open; Breast Needle Localization; Localization, Breast Needle)

    Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


    Breast surgical biopsy is when the doctor makes a cut in the breast to remove all or part of a mass. The mass is examined in a lab.

    Reasons for Procedure

    Breast surgical biopsy is done to examine a suspicious area in the breast. It may be done if any of the following are found:
    • Lump
    • Tissue thickening
    • Nipple abnormality
    • Discharge from the nipple
    • Abnormal ultrasound or mammogram image
    The biopsy can identify the area as either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

    Possible Complications

    Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a breast surgical biopsy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Bruising
    • Scarring
    • Tissue damage
    • Breast deformity
    • Numbness over the biopsy area
    Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
    Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

    What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure

    Your doctor may do the following:
    • Physical exam, especially a breast exam
    • Blood tests
    • Mammogram and/or breast ultrasound
    Leading up to the biopsy:
      Talk to your doctor about your current medicines. Certain medicines may need to be stopped before the procedure, such as:
      • Anti-inflammatory medication
      • Blood-thinning medication
    • Eat a light meal the night before your procedure. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
    • Shower the morning of the biopsy. You may be asked to use a special antibacterial soap.


    You may receive the following types of anesthesia:
    • Local anesthesia—Only the area that is being operated on is numbed.
    • General anesthesia—Blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm.

    Description of the Procedure

    There are different ways the doctor can remove the mass from your breast:
    Breast Open Biopsy
    You will be given either general or local anesthesia. The skin over the area will be cleaned. A small cut will be made over the area. A sample of the tissue or all of the mass will be removed. The site will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be applied.
    Breast Open Biopsy
    nucleus factsheet image
    If all of the mass is removed, then this type of biopsy may be referred to as a lumpectomy.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Breast Open Biopsy
    nucleus factsheet image
    If all of the mass is removed, then this type of biopsy may be referred to as a lumpectomy.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Needle Localization
    This technique will be used if the mass is too deep to be felt, but it can be seen with imaging tests. After the mass is located, a fine wire will be placed into your breast. The wire will point to the spot that needs to be biopsied. A small cut will be made in the area and the mass will be removed.

    How Long Will It Take?

    1-3 hours

    Will It Hurt?

    You may feel pain in your breast after the biopsy. Your doctor will prescribe pain medicine.

    Post-procedure Care

    At Home
    When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
    • Take pain medicine as directed by your doctor.
    • To relieve discomfort, apply a warm compress or a heating pad to the area.
    • Wear a supportive bra.
    • Ask your doctor when you should change the bandages.
    • Restrict exercise for 2-3 weeks after surgery.
    • If you have stitches, have them removed in about a week.
    • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.
    It will take about 2-5 days to receive your test results.

    Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the biopsy site
    • Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medicine you were given after surgery, or that lasts for more than two days after the procedure
    • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
    • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
    • Pain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs
    In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

    Breastcancer.org http://www.breastcancer.org


    Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation http://www.cbcf.org

    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca


    Biopsy. The Breastcancer.org website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/biopsy.jsp. Updated September 17, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2013.

    Breast biopsy. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.upmc.com/Services/pathology/biopsies-lab-tests/biopsy/common/Pages/breast.aspx. Accessed January 22, 2013.

    Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC. Procedures for Primary Care Physicians. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book; 1994.

    Sabiston DC, Lyerly HK. Textbook of Surgery. 15th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co.; 1997.

    Revision Information

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