At some point in your life, you may find a lump in your chest or abnormalities on your mammogram or ultrasound results. If the change seems suspicious, your doctor will want to perform a breast biopsy to test your breast tissue for cancer. While this may seem frightening, breast lumps are only cancerous in one out of five cases.
A breast biopsy is a very common procedure; almost one million are performed in the U.S. each year. Using a needle or surgery, a doctor will remove a small amount of tissue from the suspicious area. There are different methods of taking biopsies, such as with a vacuum, punch, excision (surgical), and wire-guided. You will be given local anesthesia to numb the area surrounding the lump.
The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if they show signs of cancer. The pathology report may take one to two weeks to complete, and it is then sent to your doctor to provide a full picture of your situation.
If no malignant cells are found, the report will indicate that the lumps or abnormalities are benign, or non-cancerous. However, follow-up treatments may still be recommended by your health care professional because several non-cancerous conditions can cause these lumps to form. These include adenofibroma, fibrocystic disease, benign tumors of the milk ducts, and lumps of injured fat tissue. There are some questions you should ask your physician after receiving your breast biopsy results:
- Are the results final and definite?
- When should my next mammogram screening be scheduled?
If diseased cells are found, the report will detail more information to assist you in determining the next steps. More than likely, you will be referred to a cancer specialist who will order more lab tests, scans, and even surgery. Your pathology report is a tool for your medical team to determine the stage of your cancer and to design treatment options which best fit you. You could ask your physician some questions if your results show malignancy:
- Is the cancer growing slowly or quickly?
- Do I need more tests to learn the stage of the disease?
- Which type of breast cancer do I have? (Types can include ductal carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, lobular carcinoma, or Paget's disease.)
- What are my treatment options? (This may include lumpectomy, radiation, or chemotherapy.)
- When will I need to start treatment?
- Will my growths respond to hormone treatments?
- Will surgery work in clearing up my condition?
Complications from biopsies are rare and the benefits of having your potentially cancerous lump inspected far outweigh the risks from any procedure. Some possible side effects from this procedure include an altered appearance in the area (depending on the size of the tissue removed), bruising and/or swelling of the tissue, soreness at the injection site, and infection at the injection site. Ensure that you follow your doctor's after-procedure instructions to reduce your chances of infection.