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Breast biopsy

Overview of breast biopsy

Your doctor may recommend a breast biopsy if you or your doctor notice a lump in your breast or if you have an abnormal mammogram.

A breast biopsy removes a small tissue sample from the breast. Getting a biopsy can help your doctor diagnose or rule out breast conditions, including breast cancer.

We are dedicated to the health of our patients at Dignity Health, and our talented doctors perform personalized breast biopsies on a routine basis. Find a Doctor near you today.

Why it’s necessary 

A breast biopsy is a tissue sample used for diagnostic purposes. Usually, your doctor will only recommend a tissue biopsy if there is a lump in your breast. Often, lumps in the breast are benign (non-cancerous). A breast biopsy is most commonly used to rule out cancer.

If you experience other symptoms, like scaling, dimpling skin around your nipple, bloody discharge, or crusting around the nipple, a breast biopsy is also used to rule out other conditions such as infection or mastitis.

Before a breast biopsy, your doctor will conduct a physical exam of your breast tissue and ask you about your medical history and family history. If this exam identifies an unusual growth or lump in your breast tissue, the next step is typically an imaging test such as an ultrasound or MRI.

A breast biopsy is also often recommended following an abnormal mammogram.

Common conditions treated

A breast biopsy is typically used to rule out or identify breast cancer in the breast tissue, lobes, or milk ducts. Some of the possible conditions identified using a breast biopsy are:

  • Adenofibroma (a type of benign tumor)
  • Hormonal changes leading to fibrocystic breast disease, or painful lumps in the breast
  • Intraductal papilloma (benign tumor in the milk duct)
  • Mammary fat necrosis
  • Carcinoma of the milk ducts or lobes of the breast
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease (a rare cancer affecting the nipples)


Doctors may use x-rays, ultrasound, or breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during a breast biopsy to precisely locate the area to sample. At Dignity Health, we can perform a breast biopsy one of several ways:

  • Excisional biopsy removes an entire area of breast tissue. It is the most invasive type of biopsy and typically involves removing an area of healthy tissue around a suspicious area.
  • Incisional biopsy removes a sample of breast tissue through an incision in the skin.
  • Core needle biopsy uses a needle to withdraw a small cylinder — or core — of tissue.
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy uses a probe to withdraw multiple core biopsies through a tiny incision.
  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy uses a thin needle to withdraw a sample of cells.


Breast biopsies are minimally invasive procedures that remove only a small sample of tissue. Side effects are very rare, and usually temporary. If side effects persist after the biopsy, they are typically treatable.

The most common risks include:

  • Temporary soreness at the biopsy site
  • Infection at the site
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Altered breast shape or size (depending on the location and amount of tissue removed during the biopsy)

Complications resulting from this procedure are very rare, and in general, making sure any unusual lumps in your breast tissue are non-cancerous far outweighs any risk.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.