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Biopsy for breast cancer

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. If the cells are found to be cancerous, a biopsy can help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy, or if it started somewhere else in the body and spread to the biopsy site.

Some biopsies are performed under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 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 minimize any pain.

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

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

Video: Biopsy Medical Animation

Medical animation

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.
  • MRI-guided breast biopsy: A minimally invasive, image-guided procedure in which specially trained radiologists use MRI technology and targeting software to precisely locate and remove cells from a suspicious area in the breast for diagnosis and treatment planning.
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