Most women have biopsies in the hospital
outpatient or "same day surgery" department. They usually do not
need to stay overnight. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if you
may eat or drink before surgery. At the hospital, you will have
some routine tests such as blood and urine tests, a chest x-ray,
and an EKG (electrocardiogram), which records the activity of your
heart. These tests tell your doctor about your general health.
Sometimes these tests are done a few days before the biopsy.
You will be asked to sign a paper called an "informed consent
form." It explains what the doctor is going to do and gives your
permission for the procedure. If you do not understand this form,
be sure to ask the doctor or nurse to explain it to you.
When it is time for the biopsy, you will be taken to the
operating room. You will be given local or general anesthesia. For
local anesthesia, the doctor injects some medicine in the breast so
you won't feel anything as the lump is removed. For general
anesthesia, you will be put to sleep for a short time while the
doctor removes the suspicious tissue. The doctor often removes all
of the lump or area in question (excisional biopsy). This type of
biopsy usually takes about an hour.
The pathologist then checks the tissue to see if it is cancer.
Using a procedure called a frozen section, the pathologist looks at
thin slices of frozen tissue under a microscope. It takes just a
few minutes and is a quick way of telling if cancer is present. If
the lump is very small or if a more detailed study is needed, the
pathologist looks at the tissue using a procedure called a
permanent section. The results of this test are usually known in a
few days. From the permanent section the doctor can tell the type
of breast cancer and learn other information that may be needed to
If the biopsy shows cancer and enough tissue is available, the
pathologist does more tests called hormone receptor assays. These
tests tell whether the cancer needs the female hormones, estrogen
and progesterone, to grow. Doctors do hormone receptor assays at
the time of the biopsy because the tissue needed for these tests
may be hard to get later on. This information is important to help
the doctor decide how the cancer should be treated.
After the biopsy, you will be taken to your room or the
outpatient care area. Most women have very little discomfort after
a biopsy. If you have general anesthesia, you will probably be
sleepy and want to rest. Depending on how you feel, you will be
ready to go home 2 to 3 hours after the biopsy. It's best for a
family member or friend to take you home. Before leaving the
hospital, you will get instructions on how to take care of the
incision. If you have any questions, ask your doctor or nurse.
You should be able to return to your normal routine within a day
or two. However, for the next week or so your breast may be sore
and slightly bruised. Also, the incision may feel firm for 3 to 4
You may be told the results of your biopsy before you leave the
hospital. However, the results from a permanent section will take a
few days. If you have cancer, your doctor will talk with you about
treatment options. Treatment for breast cancer usually begins
within a couple of weeks after the biopsy. This gives you time
- Learn about treatment options and breast reconstruction.
- Get another medical opinion.
- Have tests that tell if the cancer has spread to other parts of
- Prepare yourself emotionally.
- Make personal and work arrangements.
A short delay between the biopsy and treatment will not reduce
the chances that your treatment will be successful.