A Fox Chase Women's Cancer Center Program

Diagnosing Breast Cancer: The Biopsy

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Diagnostic Tools and Procedures for Breast Cancer

  • Stereotactic biopsy: A procedure for diagnosing a suspicious area that can be seen on a mammogram. Stereotactic breast biopsy uses computer-imaging techniques to guide a needle into the breast to collect cores of tissues from the suspicious area.

    Using sophisticated equipment, expert breast-imaging specialists at Fox Chase are able to remove just enough tissue for evaluation. Patients benefit with a fast, accurate biopsy versus a surgical diagnosis, and possibly begin their breast cancer treatment sooner.

  • Excisional biopsy: If a suspicious lump is detected, this procedure is performed to remove the entire lump and some surrounding tissue for evaluation. By removing the entire lump, this method provides the most accurate results. Excisional biopsies are performed on an outpatient basis, using local anesthesia.
  • Needle biopsy, fine-needle aspiration or core biopsy: If the lump can be felt, the surgeon uses a fine-needle to remove part of the lump, suspicious tissue or fluid for microscopic analysis. If the lump cannot be felt, the radiologist uses imaging guidance (mammography, ultrasound or MRI) to remove tissue for diagnosis. These are the least invasive methods of testing tissue. The advantage is fast and accurate results.

    The major disadvantage of this technique is the possibility of a false negative result. This occurs when the biopsy results reveal no breast cancer, but cancer is actually present. The chances of this happening are small. In almost all cases, if a biopsy result is negative, recommendations are given for careful follow up or additional testing.

    New technologies have improved the effectiveness of needle biopsy. In some cases, a technique called needle localization guides biopsy of a non-palpable lesion (a mass that cannot be felt) that was detected by mammography to assist the surgeon in removing the lesion.

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