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What to Expect During and After Your Breast Biopsy

What to Expect During and After Your Breast Biopsy
After your annual mammogram, it’s scary enough when your doctor tells you that you need a second, diagnostic mammogram to evaluate areas of concern. But when you learn that they need a biopsy too, you’re not sure what to expect. Here’s what happens.

Even though breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women (after lung cancer), death rates from the disease fell by 43% from 1989 to 2020. The decline is believed to be due to both better treatment options and to the success of early diagnosis through regular breast screening. When any cancer is caught early, it’s more easily treated.

You take your health seriously, which is why you had your annual mammogram. Nevertheless, you never expected a result that requires more investigation. So, it’s only to be expected that you feel anxious and nervous about your upcoming breast biopsy. 

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors Joseph Calandra, MD and Karen Mass, MD conduct the least invasive biopsies possible to get you the results you need with minimal scarring or trauma. 

Breast biopsies are important to either confirm a cancer so you can start treatment, or to determine that the tissue has no cancer at all. In 80% of cases, breast biopsies show a negative (i.e., no cancer) result. 

What happens during your breast biopsy? Here’s what you can expect.

First, we determine what type of biopsy you need

Depending on the extent of the area we’re investigating, we choose from various types of biopsies. Whenever possible, we use needle biopsies rather than perform a surgical biopsy. We only need tissue samples that are about as big as a grain of rice. Options include:

  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy 
  • Core needle biopsy
  • Vacuum-assisted core biopsy

Due to the high rate of negative biopsies, we rarely perform excisional biopsies, where we remove an entire lump, or incisional biopsies, where we make an incision and remove part of a lump.

Second, we prep you for your biopsy

No matter what type of biopsy you’re scheduled for, the preparatory steps are similar. You take off your upper clothing and change into a hospital gown. We then apply antiseptic to the treatment area.

For a needle biopsy, we only use local anesthesia. We inject the anesthetic into your breast to numb all sensation.

Next, we take the biopsy

We remove several samples of tissue during your biopsy. Depending on the type of biopsy you receive, and the type of visual guidance we need, you either sit or lie face up on a regular exam table, or lie face down on a special table that has an opening for your breasts.

Fine-needle aspiration

You lie back on the table while your doctor steadies the lump with one hand and inserts an extremely thin needle into the lump. They quickly pull back on the syringe to collect cells or fluids.

Ultrasound-guided core needle

You lie on your back or side on an ultrasound table. The radiologist holds an ultrasound device to your breast to guide the needle, inserts the needle, and takes several samples.

MRI-guided core needle

You lie face down on a padded MRI scanning table, with your breasts in a hollow depression. The MRI creates multiple cross-sectional images of your breast and combines them to generate 3D pictures, which determine the location for the biopsy.

Your doctor or radiologist makes a quarter-inch incision, then inserts the core needle. They take several samples of tissue. 


You either lie face down on a padded biopsy table with your breast in a specially designed opening or sit upright. We position your breast in between two mammogram pads. 

Your radiologist or doctor makes a tiny incision and then either inserts a needle or vacuum-powered probe to remove samples. This takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes. 

After your procedure

Your breast biopsy shouldn’t take more than an hour. Needle biopsies don’t require incisions. We simply put a bandage over the needle sites.

We give you instructions on how to care for your needle site. You may be sore and uncomfortable for a few days after your biopsy. You can take nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage any pain.

We send the biopsy samples to a pathology laboratory. They examine the tissue for signs of cancer or cancerous changes. 

If your results are negative, you don’t have cancer. Just come in next year for your regular mammogram.

If your results are positive, we refer you to an oncologist. Your treatment plan is customized depending on the type and extent of your cancer.

A breast biopsy can save your life. If you’ve been told you need a breast biopsy, contact us today by calling our friendly team or using our online appointment form.