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HealthInfo Canterbury

Breast biopsy

Fine needle aspirationIf a mammogram shows an area of concern, or if you find a lump in your breast that needs investigating, you may need to have a biopsy.

A biopsy involves removing some cells and looking at them under a microscope. This will show whether the lump is cancer, or whether it's a benign (non-cancerous) growth.

A biopsy can be done in several different ways. The cells might be removed with a small needle, which is called a fine needle aspiration or FNA. The needle is so fine you're unlikely to need any local anaesthetic.

You may need a larger piece of tissue removed with a larger needle. This is called a core biopsy. You'll have a local anaesthetic to numb the area before a core biopsy.

If there's no lump to feel but your screening mammogram shows an area of concern, you'll need what's called a hook wire biopsy. To do this, the radiologist inserts a fine wire to show the area of concern, guided by the mammogram image. The surgeon uses the wire to guide them to the area the biopsy has to come from.

If the cells are cancerous, your GP will refer you to a breast surgeon to discuss the appropriate treatment.

If the cells aren't cancerous, you may still need to have the lump removed to be absolutely sure. This procedure is called a lumpectomy. Your GP will refer you to the breast surgeon to discuss this.

Most benign breast lumps don't need surgery.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by oncoplastic breast and general surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Page created December 2018.


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Review key: HIBCA-57360