Preparing for a breast biopsy & what to expect


It’s normal to feel a little nervous before a breast biopsy. Many women are anxious about this type of procedure, especially when they haven’t had a breast biopsy before. We’ll go over what to expect before, during and after a breast biopsy so you can prepare for your appointment.

What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a procedure where your doctor removes a small amount of breast tissue to examine it under a microscope. It’s commonly used to diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions.

Types of breast biopsies

There are a few different types of breast biopsies that your doctor may use, including a core needle biopsy. Your doctor will recommend the best type of breast biopsy for you depending on your symptoms.

A core needle biopsy uses a hollow needle to remove a piece of tissue from the affected area. This type of biopsy removes solid tissue from lesions.

In rare cases, your doctor might recommend a surgical biopsy. During this type of breast biopsy, you will be put under general anesthesia while your doctor surgically removes the lesion for examination.

Preparing for your breast biopsy

It’s common to feel a little anxious before a breast biopsy procedure. Knowing what to do before your visit can help calm your nerves and ensure that your appointment goes smoothly.

Your care team will tell you exactly how to prepare for a breast biopsy. Make sure to follow the instructions they give you when you schedule your procedure. Here are general guidelines to help you know what to expect while preparing for a breast biopsy.

Bathe

In order for your biopsy to heal, you’ll need to keep the area dry for 24-48 hours. Taking a bath or shower before your appointment will help you feel clean and comfortable as you recover.

Eat a small meal

If you’re having a core needle biopsy, it’s safe to eat beforehand. You’ll likely be at the doctor’s office for about 1.5 to 2 hours, so make sure to have a snack or a light meal.

Don’t wear deodorant or lotion

Some personal care products have ingredients, like aluminum or glitter, that can show up on ultrasounds, mammograms and MRIs. Skip wearing deodorant and body lotion on the day of your breast biopsy.

If you forget and use deodorant or lotion before your procedure, don’t worry. Your care team will have wipes available so you can clean off the product before your breast biopsy.

It’s also helpful to avoid wearing perfumes and scented products when you go in for your procedure. There may be people in the clinic who are sensitive to smells.

Wear a sports bra

Your breasts need extra support after a biopsy. A sports bra offers support and gentle compression that can help you heal and prevent complications from your breast biopsy, like hematoma (a collection of blood under the skin). Either wear a sports bra to your appointment or bring one to put on before you head home.

If you don’t have a sports bra, bring your most comfortable bra to wear after your procedure.

Dress in loose-fitting clothes

Before your biopsy, you’ll need to undress and put on a gown. Wear loose-fitting clothing that’s easy to take on and off to help you feel more comfortable. You might also want to skip a dress and wear a two-piece outfit. That way, you’ll be able to undress from the waist up more comfortably.

Bring your insurance information

Don’t forget to bring your health insurance card to your appointment. You’ll need to provide your insurance information when you check in.

What to expect during your breast biopsy

Now that you’re prepared for your appointment, here’s what you can expect during your breast biopsy.

Expect to be at the office for about 1.5 to 2 hours

Appointments for core needle biopsies take about 1.5 to 2 hours. The actual biopsy goes quickly, but you’ll need time to prepare for the procedure, be bandaged afterward and talk to your care team about your recovery.

What to expect during breast biopsy: How a breast biopsy works

When you arrive, a member of your care team will take you back to an examination room. They’ll answer any questions you have about the breast biopsy and give you a gown so you can get dressed.

When it’s time for your procedure, they’ll prepare you for the breast biopsy. Your care team will locate the lesion with an ultrasound, mammogram or MRI, and mark the location on your skin to guide the doctor.

After that, they’ll numb your breast with lidocaine to keep you comfortable during the biopsy. Lidocaine works in seconds for most people. After the lidocaine has taken effect, your doctor will take the sample using a needle with the imaging as a guide. Most people only feel slight pressure while the samples are being taken.

The devices used to perform core needle biopsies can make a variety of sounds. Your doctor will talk to you about the noises you’ll hear during the breast biopsy procedure so you will know what to expect.

After they remove the tissue sample, they’ll most likely insert a small clip to mark the biopsy location. A breast marker is made of titanium or steel and is very tiny. This marker won’t affect MRIs, mammograms or other future imaging you may need. It also won’t set off metal detectors. It is incredibly rare to feel the breast marker clip once it’s been placed in the lesion.

What to expect after the breast biopsy procedure

Immediately after the procedure, they’ll put pressure on your biopsy location for a few minutes. The pressure can feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to help your blood clot and prevent hematomas from forming.

In most cases, a mammogram is needed after your biopsy. This will be performed with light compression for your comfort.

You’ll also be given materials for your recovery and information about what to expect as you heal.

During your recovery, don’t do any vigorous activity or lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for 24 hours after the procedure. Your breasts may feel sore after the lidocaine wears off, but you shouldn’t experience pain that can’t be controlled with Tylenol. You may also notice some bruising around the biopsy site, which is normal.

Is a breast biopsy painful?

No, a breast biopsy usually isn’t painful. Lidocaine is a very effective local anesthetic that works in seconds for most people. You may feel a slight pinch from the needle when the lidocaine is administered, but your breast will be numbed very quickly. Most people only feel the pressure of something pressing against the skin, but no pain. Any discomfort that you feel will only last for a few seconds.

Depending on where the lesion is in your breast, you may find the way you need to position your body is slightly uncomfortable. If this is the case, your care team will find the most comfortable position possible for you while performing the breast biopsy.

You may feel some discomfort while the care team puts pressure on your breast after the procedure, but this part of the biopsy only lasts for a few moments.

Recovering from your breast biopsy

After your biopsy is over, your nurse will talk to you about your recovery, how to take care of yourself and when you’ll receive your results. Here’s what you can expect.

Aftercare for a breast biopsy

In order to heal quickly and safely, your care team will tell you what guidelines to follow after your breast biopsy. In general, here is what you should keep in mind after a breast biopsy.

  • Keep your Steri-Strips on: You’ll likely have Steri-Strips (medical tape) over your biopsy site. In most cases, you’ll need to leave these in place for about 7-10 days. If you have a bandage over the Steri-Strips, you can remove this about a day after your biopsy.
  • Use ice packs: Ice packs can help reduce swelling and manage pain as you heal from your biopsy. Keep an ice pack on the biopsy site for about an hour after the procedure. Then you can use ice packs as needed to help control pain and swelling as you heal.
  • Wear a sports bra: The compression from a sports bra helps support your body while it’s healing and prevents hematomas. Wear a sports bra or snug-fitting bra round-the-clock, even as you sleep. Your care team will let you know how long to wear a sports bra after your procedure. In many cases, we recommend wearing a sports bra or snug-fitting bra for 24 hours after your breast biopsy.
  • Stay dry: In order to give your biopsy site time to heal, you’ll need to keep it dry for 24-48 hours after your procedure. This helps prevent infection.
  • Limit how much you move: Moving too much after a breast biopsy can cause complications and pain. Avoid exercise for a couple days after your biopsy. And don’t reach your arms above your shoulders or lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for the first 24 hours after the biopsy.

Remember, a breast biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure. Many women go back to work or regular activities immediately after their breast biopsies.

If you need a surgical breast biopsy, your surgeon will give you instructions on how to take care of yourself as you recover. Recovering from a surgical biopsy can be a little different than core needle biopsy recovery.

How long it takes to recover from a breast biopsy

While bruising will greatly improve after one or two weeks, it will take 6-8 weeks to fully heal from a breast biopsy. It’s normal to notice bruising, swelling and some pain near the affected area while you’re healing.

Possible breast biopsy complications

Breast biopsies are common, safe procedures. However, just like with any medical procedure, there are possible complications that might occur. These possible complications include:

  • Bruising and swelling
  • Hematomas
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Developing a small scar at the biopsy site

When to call a doctor after a breast biopsy

Symptoms like mild pain, bruising and swelling are normal parts of the healing process. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms you should contact your care team.

  • You have a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Your biopsy site is hot to the touch, red or very swollen
  • You notice bleeding, drainage or pus from the biopsy site
  • You have abnormal pain

When you’ll see results from your breast biopsy

A doctor called a pathologist will take a close look at your tissue under a microscope to make an accurate diagnosis. In most cases, it can take 1-2 business days to receive the results of a core needle biopsy. If you need a surgical biopsy, it may take 3-5 business days to get the results.

Your care team will talk with you about what the results mean and go over any follow-up care you may need.

Breast biopsies and specialty care in Minnesota

A breast biopsy is often needed to diagnose a variety of breast conditions. If you need a breast biopsy or are concerned about breast health symptoms, you should talk with a doctor.

We have breast experts at several breast health centers throughout the Twin Cities. Choose the most convenient location for you and make a breast health appointment at: