A biopsy is an outpatient procedure in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the body and examined under a microscope. In the investigation of breast lumps suspected of being cancerous, more than 1.2 million such procedures are performed in the United States each year.

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In cases where a needle is used simply to remove fluid from a lump, it might be necessary to go back later and obtain more tissue in order to confirm the preliminary diagnosis.

Most biopsies can be completed in less than an hour under a local anesthetic such as novocaine. Dissolving stitches are used. After the procedure, pain medicine is prescribed but usually is not needed for more than a few days.

If the biopsy is performed on a Thursday or Friday, you can return to work on Monday.

“What are the indications for performing a breast biopsy?”

If a lump that is not a cyst is felt in the breast, or if a mammogram or breast ultrasound identifies a suspicious-looking area, a small piece of tissue should be removed from the area for closer examination. It is the only way to make sure that the lump is not cancer.

“How does the physician decide what type of biopsy is needed?”

A variety of approaches are possible, based on whether the lump is palpable (able to be felt through the skin) or non-palpable (identifiable only through the use of mammography or ultrasound).