Your breast health is important. Our doctors and care teams are here for you, providing personalized breast care throughout your life. Our compassionate approach to your care begins with getting to know you, learning about your health history and discussing any concerns you may have. Together, we’ll create a care plan designed for you. And we can connect you with other Ascension specialists, if advanced treatments are necessary.
When other tests show that you might have breast cancer, you will probably need to have a biopsy. Needing a breast biopsy doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Most biopsy results are not cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to find out for sure. During a biopsy, the doctor will remove small pieces from the suspicious area so they can be looked at in the lab to see if they contain cancer cells.
Types of breast biopsies
There are different kinds of breast biopsies. Some are done using a hollow needle, and some use an incision (cut in the skin). Each has pros and cons. The type you have depends on a number of things, like:
- How suspicious the breast change looks
- How big it is
- Where it is in the breast
- If there is more than one
- Any other medical problems you might have
- Your personal preferences
For most suspicious areas in the breast, a needle biopsy (rather than a surgical biopsy) can be done. Ask the doctor which type of biopsy you will have and what you can expect during and after the procedure.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy
In an FNA biopsy, a very thin, hollow needle attached to a syringe is used to withdraw (aspirate) a small amount of tissue from a suspicious area. The needle used for an FNA biopsy is thinner than the one used for blood tests.
Core needle biopsy
A core biopsy uses a larger needle to sample breast changes felt by the doctor or seen on an ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI. This is often the preferred type of biopsy if breast cancer is suspected.
Surgical (open) biopsy
In rare cases, surgery is needed to remove all or part of the lump for testing. This is called a surgical or open biopsy. Most often, the surgeon removes the entire mass or abnormal area as well as a surrounding margin of normal breast tissue.
Lymph node biopsy
The doctor may also need to biopsy the lymph nodes under the arm to check them for cancer spread. This might be done at the same time as biopsy of the breast tumor, or when the breast tumor is removed at surgery. This can be done by needle biopsy, or with a sentinel lymph node biopsy and/or an axillary lymph node dissection. Regardless of which type of biopsy you have, the biopsy samples will be sent to a lab where a specialized doctor called a pathologist will look at them. It typically will take at least a few days for you to find out the results.
Surgery for Breast Cancer
Most women with breast cancer have some type of surgery as part of their treatment. There are different types of breast surgery, and it may be done for different reasons, depending on the situation.
Remove as much of the cancer as possible (breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy)
Find out whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection)
Your doctor may recommend a certain operation based on your breast cancer features and your medical history, or you may have a choice about which type to have. It’s important to know your options so you can talk about them with your doctor and make the choice that is right for you.
Surgery to remove breast cancer
There are two main types of surgery to remove breast cancer:
Breast-conserving surgery (also called a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy) is a surgery in which only the part of the breast containing the cancer is removed. The goal is to remove the cancer as well as some surrounding normal tissue. How much breast is removed depends on where and how big the tumor is, as well as other factors.
Mastectomy is a surgery in which the entire breast is removed, including all of the breast tissue and sometimes other nearby tissues. There are several different types of mastectomies. Some women may also get a double mastectomy, in which both breasts are removed.
Choosing between breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy
Many women with early-stage cancers can choose between breast-conserving surgery (BCS) and mastectomy. The main advantage of BCS is that a woman keeps most of her breast. But in most cases she will also need radiation. Women who have mastectomy for early-stage cancers are less likely to need radiation.
For some women, mastectomy may be a better option, because of the type of breast cancer, the large size of the tumor, previous treatment with radiation, or certain other factors.
Some women might worry that having a less extensive surgery might raise their risk of the cancer coming back. But studies following thousands of women for more than 20 years show that when BCS is done with radiation, survival is the same as having a mastectomy in people who are candidates for both types of surgery.