Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School


What Is It?

A biopsy is a tissue sample removed from the body and examined under a microscope. In a breast biopsy, a doctor removes tissue from a suspicious area so that a pathologist can determine whether the tissue contains cancerous cells.

At one time, surgeons only performed biopsies by making an incision in the breast and removing the suspicious tissue along with some normal tissue from around it. These surgical biopsies leave scars and may change the size and shape of the breast.

Today, doctors can often use newer techniques. These include fine needle aspiration and core needle biopsy, which don't leave scars or change the shape of the breast. This is a significant advantage, because four out of five women who have biopsies do not have cancer.

If your health care facility does not perform needle biopsies, ask to be referred to one that does, unless there's a reason why this procedure is inappropriate for you.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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