Biopsy Techniques

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QUESTION: Is fine needle biopsy still recommended as a method of choice for determining whether a mass is cancerous or not? While the benefits of such a method are that it is least invasive, I understand there is risk that if the mass is cancerous, the methodology can result in leaving a trail of cancerous cells when the needle is withdrawn.

ANSWER: Regarding your concern that a needle biopsy can leave "a trail of cancerous cells," let me reassure you that if the lump is not cancerous, this won't be a concern. If the needle biopsy does show cancer, then the full lump will have to be removed (either with lumpectomy or mastectomy). During that surgery, the surgeon usually also removes the tissue along the pathway of the needle biopsy procedure, to ensure that any cancer cells remaining there are also removed. Since the pathway of the needle is quite small, removing that tissue is not a major addition to the lumpectomy.

To read more about lumpectomy or "breast-conserving surgery," click here.

—Marisa Weiss, M.D.

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