If you need a breast biopsy to investigate a breast lump or mammogram abnormality, your recovery will depend on the type of breast biopsy your doctor recommends. Many times, a sample of tissue can be obtained from the breast using a needle, which makes breast biopsy recovery quick and simple. Other times, your doctor may recommend removing the entire tissue abnormality during a more invasive procedure. This type of procedure can require a longer recovery period.
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Types of Breast Biopsy
In general, doctors choose one of these types of breast tissue biopsy:
. Core needle biopsy
. Fine needle aspiration
. Excisional surgical biopsy
. Incisional surgical biopsy
Both a core needle biopsy and fine needle aspiration involve needles inserted into the breast to remove some cells and find out if they’re cancerous. Needle-based biopsies may also employ imaging technology, like ultrasound or mammography, to guide placement of the needle during the procedure.
Sometimes your doctor may want to examine a larger amount of tissue. In this case, you will have a surgical biopsy. One type of surgical biopsy is an excisional biopsy, or lumpectomy. It takes a little longer to recover from a lumpectomy than from a needle biopsy.
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Breast Biopsy Recovery Period
Doctors generally perform needle biopsies using only local anesthetic. In other words, they numb the area of the breast where the needle will be inserted. You may feel some discomfort in the area of the biopsy, but you will be able to drive yourself to and from the appointment, and you will be able to return to all normal activities the next day.
The recovery period for an incisional surgical breast biopsy is a little longer than recovery from a needle biopsy. You may receive a light sedative during the procedure, which means you will need someone to drive you home after the appointment. The sedation may make you feel groggy for the rest of the day. A surgical biopsy will leave a small incision that may be closed with adhesive strips, and you might feel sore in the surgical area. Within a day or two, however, you should be feeling better and be able to return to normal activities. Be sure to follow your doctor’s discharge instructions.
Recovery from excisional biopsy (lumpectomy) requires the longest recovery period. Performed under general anesthesia, a lumpectomy may involve a larger incision compared to an incisional biopsy, closed with adhesive strips or sutures (stitches). Your doctor also may place a surgical drain into the breast to remove fluids and stop them from collecting in the tissue. If you have a drain, you’ll need to empty it periodically and record the output. The drain will be removed days or weeks after the lumpectomy.
You also may need to take pain medicine after lumpectomy. Your return to normal activities may be slower than for breast biopsies, though many women can get back to regular life within a week of the procedure. Follow your doctor’s aftercare instructions carefully to avoid developing post-lumpectomy complications like a hematoma (pocket of blood in the tissue).
After the Core Needle Biopsy
You might be told to limit strenuous activity for a day or so, but you should be able to go back to your usual activities after that. Your doctor or nurse will give you instructions on this.
A CNB can cause some bleeding, bruising, or swelling. This can make it seem like the breast lump is larger after the biopsy. Most often, this is nothing to worry about, and any bleeding, bruising, or swelling will go away over time. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to care for the biopsy site and when you might need to contact them if you’re having any issues. A CNB usually doesn’t leave a scar.
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Breast Biopsy Next Steps
After a breast biopsy, follow your doctor’s instructions and activity restrictions (if any). You may have to wait up to a week to receive your breast biopsy results. If there is no cancer in your breast tissue sample, you can resume your normal activities and follow up with your doctor as recommended.
If your biopsy results show the suspicious breast tissue is cancerous, then your doctor will recommend the best course of breast cancer treatment based on your situation. Your treatment options could depend on the type of breast cancer and whether it is in lymph nodes near the breast (if your surgeon sampled them). Your options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or another type of treatment.
Breast biopsy represents an important tool in detecting and staging breast cancer. Take time to discuss your breast biopsy options with your doctor to select the one that best meets your needs, while also providing the most accurate results. Most women experience little pain with a breast biopsy—even a surgical one—and can soon return to normal activities.
Risks of a breast biopsy
Although a breast biopsy is relatively simple and its risks are low, every surgical procedure carries a risk. Some possible side effects of a breast biopsy include:
an altered appearance of your breast, depending on the size of the tissue removed
. bruising of the breast
. swelling of the breast
. soreness at the biopsy site
. an infection of the biopsy site
These side effects are typically temporary. If they persist, they can be treated. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for care after the biopsy. This will greatly reduce your chance of infection.
Complications from a biopsy are rare. The benefits of having your potentially cancerous lump inspected far outweigh the risks from the procedure.
The sooner breast cancer is detected, the faster that treatment can begin. This will greatly improve your overall outlook.