A female patient consults with a female physician

Breast care is an important part of health and wellness for women. At Memorial Hermann, we are dedicated to providing specialized care with high quality exams and screening procedures for a variety of your breast-health needs.

If your physician has recommended a breast biopsy, you may have questions or concerns. Memorial Hermann-affiliated physicians deliver comprehensive, compassionate care and take the time to answer your questions and work with you to determine the right treatment plan for you.

It is important to remember that needing to have a breast biopsy does not mean that you have cancer. Most of the time, breast biopsy results are benign (not cancerous). If your physician finds an area of concern in your breast, a biopsy will give you a definite result. If cancer is detected during a breast biopsy, your physician can create a personalized treatment plan designed to achieve the best possible outcome for you.

What is a Breast Biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or fluid from a suspicious area in the breast to determine if it is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). When cells are removed from the breast, they are examined under a microscope by a pathologist in a laboratory. A biopsy is the only way to determine whether or not a breast lump is cancerous.

Why is a Breast Biopsy Needed?

If your physician believes there is an area of concern in your breast, they may recommend a biopsy. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • You or your physician feel a lump in your breast
  • An abnormal result from an annual screening mammogram
  • An abnormal result from a breast ultrasound exam
  • An abnormal result from a breast MRI
  • Changes in your nipples, like dimpling, crusting or discharge

Breast Calcifications

As women get older, sometimes tiny bits of calcium build up in the breasts. These are called calcifications. They are found in about half of all women over the age of 50, and these are not necessarily dangerous by themselves. Calcifications will show up as bright white spots on a diagnostic mammogram, almost like little pieces of chalk dust.

Though they are usually benign, calcifications may be a sign of breast cancer if they are arranged in certain patterns, like a tight cluster or a line. A breast biopsy can give an accurate diagnosis.

Types of Breast Biopsies

Breast biopsies can be performed in different ways. Some can be done with a small, hollow needle while others are done through an incision. Your physician will recommend a specific biopsy procedure based on the size of the lump, where it is located and whether or not multiple lumps are present.

Most biopsies that are performed with a small needle can be done with local anesthesia to numb the breast, and you will be awake during the procedure. Incisional biopsies usually require general anesthesia.

If your biopsy involves local anesthesia, you will receive an injection of numbing medication in the area of the breast where the biopsy will be performed. After the numbing medication takes effect, you will not feel pain during the procedure. For biopsies requiring general anesthesia, you will receive intravenous (IV) medication so that you are completely asleep during the procedure.

Memorial Hermann-affiliated physicians perform three different types of breast biopsies:

Fine-Needle Aspiration

This procedure is the most basic type of breast biopsy. It is often used to examine lumps that are closer to the outer surface of the breast and easier to access, and lumps that are suspected to be fluid-filled cysts.

You will receive a local anesthetic to numb your breast. When the breast is numb, your physician will insert a very thin needle through the skin and into the area to be examined. Once the needle reaches the specific area of concern, your physician will remove a small sample of fluid or tissue through the hollow needle. The sample will be reviewed in a laboratory to determine which types of cells are present.

Core Needle Aspiration Biopsy

If the mass is located deeper in the breast tissue, your physician may recommend a core needle aspiration biopsy. This type of biopsy is similar to an FNA biopsy, but a slightly larger needle is used.

You will receive a local anesthetic to numb your breast. When the breast is numb, your physician will insert the needle through the skin and into the area to be examined. Core needle aspiration biopsies use ultrasound technology to guide the needle through the breast tissue to reach the specific area of concern. Once the needle is in the correct location, your physician will remove several tissue samples from different areas of the mass.

Open (Surgical) Biopsy

This type of biopsy is usually performed in an operating room with general anesthesia. Once you are asleep, your surgeon will make an incision in the breast and remove either a portion of the mass or the entire mass.

If the mass is very deep in the breast tissue and difficult to find, your surgeon may use a process called wire localization. This is a method of mapping a route from the surface of the breast to the area of concern. Your surgeon will insert a thin needle attached to a wire into the breast. X-ray or ultrasound technology is used to guide the needle to the mass. When the correct location is reached, the mass (or a portion of the mass) will be removed and sent to a laboratory for examination.

Memorial Hermann-affiliated physicians may use special tools and methods to help guide the needle during a biopsy procedure. These methods include:

Stereotactic Biopsy

Mammogram technology is used to create a 3-D image of the breast. The 3-D image is used as a map that guides a path for the needle to reach the mass.

Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy

Ultrasound technology is used to view the breast tissue and locate the mass. Sound waves create visual images so the physician can accurately guide the needle to the area of the biopsy.

Why Do I Need a Breast Biopsy?

If your annual screening mammogram, ultrasound, or physical breast exam detects a lump of suspicious mass, a breast biopsy will need to be performed in order to determine if it is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

Breast Calcifications

As women get older, sometimes tiny bits of calcium build up in their breasts. These are called calcifications. They are found in about half of all women over the age of 50, and are not necessarily dangerous by themselves. Calcifications will show up as bright white spots on a diagnostic mammogram, almost like little pieces of chalk dust.

Though they are usually benign, calcifications may be a sign of breast cancer if arranged in certain patterns, like a tight cluster or a line. A breast biopsy will need to be performed on the area in order to give an accurate diagnosis.

What You Should Know Before Your Breast Biopsy

Don't panic! Just because you need a breast biopsy does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 80 percent of women who undergo a breast biopsy do not have breast cancer. The only way to know for sure is through a biopsy, and wouldn't you rather have the facts instead of spending your time worrying?

Insurance Information

Unfortunately, in order to know the full status, staging, and proper course of treatment for your condition, this isn't an exam you'll be able to skip. The good news is that breast biopsies are considered a standard type of breast cancer treatment and should be covered by insurance.

Some patients may decide to seek out a second opinion either before or after they have undergone a breast biopsy. Most health plans cover second opinions as well, provided they are conducted by an in-network healthcare provider. As always, it;s a good idea to confirm the extent of coverage with your insurance provider before scheduling.

Preparing for Your Breast Biopsy

In most cases, no preparation is needed before a breast biopsy. Please bring a CD of your prior studies if your prior breast health studies were performed outside of Memorial Hermann. If you need us to request your prior films from another facility, please complete a medical release of information form and return it to our facility prior to your appointment. Once received, we will request the films. Comparison with prior imaging is key to assessing for change and accurate diagnosis. Otherwise, you should prepare for a breast biopsy the same as you would for a standard breast exam:

  • Consider scheduling your biopsy one to two weeks after your period begins. Breasts are the least tender just after menstruation, which will make the exam more comfortable.
  • Wear loose-fitting, easy-to-remove clothing. You will be asked to strip to the waist for the exam.
  • Do not apply deodorant, perfume, lotion, or other products to your underarms or torso before the exam. These items can sometimes appear as "false positives" on scans.
  • Inform your physician if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have breast implants, or are currently suffering from any medical conditions before scheduling.

Contact Us

Complete the form below to be connected to our Nurse Navigator – a dedicated registered nurse who specializes in breast health and is available to help you with appointment coordination, education and resources.
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If you need more immediate assistance, please call us at (877) 704-8700.

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.