Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Biopsy for breast cancer

Biopsy for breast cancer

Some common biopsies used to help doctors make a breast cancer diagnosis include: fine needle aspiration biopsy, which uses a small needle; core needle biopsy, which uses a larger needle; or surgical biopsy, in which all or part of a lump is removed and checked for cancer.

  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Your doctor may first perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy to determine whether cancer has spread to the lymph glands under the arm. First, a radioactive substance and/or a dye is injected near the tumor site. Then, the first lymph nodes that pick up the dye are removed and reviewed by a pathologist to check for the presence of cancer cells.

What is a biopsy?

During a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body. A pathologist inspects the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. 

Some biopsies are performed endoscopically, others under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the radiology suite. In some cases, biopsies are performed in the operating suite. This allows your doctor to collect cells from deeper inside the body. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you will receive an anesthetic to reduce discomfort.

Compared with other diagnostic tests for cancer, biopsies often provide a more definitive diagnosis. A biopsy may help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy sample, or if it started somewhere else in the body.

Some sites that are commonly biopsied include the breast, skin, bone marrow, GI tract, lung, liver, bladder, colon and lymph nodes. Our doctors determine the most appropriate method of biopsy based on several factors, such as the size, shape, location, and characteristics of the abnormality.

Biopsy medical animation