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A breast biopsy is a test in which either tissue or cells are taken from inside a breast lump and then sent for detailed examination in the pathology laboratory.

A histopathologist, a specialist in cell biology, looks at the cells or tissue from a breast biopsy under a high-powered microscope. Cancerous cells look different from normal tissue and this can confirm whether the lump is breast cancer, or whether it is a benign growth, such as a harmless, fluid-filled breast cyst.

Breast biopsy techniques

At The London Clinic, we offer a range of different breast biopsy techniques. Your breast surgeon will advise you which is the most suitable in your case.

Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
Your radiologist or surgeon will use a very thin needle to extract cells from a breast lump, usually without any anaesthetic. This type of breast biopsy is usually performed to remove fluid from a painful cyst to relieve symptoms but it can also be used to take a sample of cells from a solid mass for diagnosis. These may be enough to confirm that the lump is a harmless cyst but, if not, you may need a follow-up test such as a core needle biopsy or a vacuum assisted breast biopsy.

Core needle biopsy
This type of breast biopsy is used to examine the cells in a more substantial sample of breast tissue. A radiologist or your breast surgeon will use a hollow needle to remove samples from a breast lump after the surrounding area has been numbed with local anaesthetic. Ultrasound is often used to help position the needle accurately. A series of samples, each about the size of a grain of rice, will be taken. These are sent to a histopathologist to be analysed to find out if cancer cells are present.

Stereotactic breast biopsy
This specific type of breast biopsy may be required if a mammogram shows a breast abnormality such as:

  • Microcalcifications that can be seen on your mammogram, but cannot be felt or seen on an ultrasound.
  • Distortion in the structure of the breast tissue that cannot be easily explained.
  • Abnormal tissue change in an area of the breast.
  • New calcium deposits at a previous surgery site.

During the procedure, one of our expert radiologists will use two-dimensional X-ray images produced at various angles to guide a mechanised needle to remove the tissue sample. A stereotactic breast biopsy takes about an hour and you will need to have a local anaesthetic.

Vacuum assisted breast biopsy
The ATEC Vacuum Assisted Biopsy system™ allows suspicious areas of calcification to be removed for biopsy under local anaesthetic. This type of breast biopsy produces even larger tissue samples than core needle biopsy, allowing our histopathologists to interpret your results more accurately.

When you have this test, a biopsy needle is connected to a console and inserted into the breast lump. An aperture in the needle opens and a vacuum gently pulls on the targeted tissue while a small rotating cutting system removes it.

Small non-cancerous breast masses can sometimes be completely removed in this way, which can avoid the need for an operation under general anaesthetic. Usually there is minimal scarring and no stitches are needed.

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