Breast lump biopsy

Your health expert: Mr Giles Davies, Consultant Breast Surgeon
Content editor review by Dr Kristina Routh, April 2021
Next review due April 2024

A breast lump biopsy is where your doctor takes a sample of cells or tissue from your breast to check for cancer. It’s one of several tests you may have to check for breast cancer if you have a breast lump.

Image showing the structures of the breast

Tests for breast cancer

It’s important to see your GP if you find a lump or other change in your breast. If they think there’s a chance your symptoms could be due to breast cancer, they’ll refer you to a breast clinic. You may also be invited to go for tests at a clinic following a screening mammogram (X-ray of your breasts). You may be offered a biopsy as part of a series of tests called triple assessment. This includes:

  • an examination of your breasts by the doctor
  • a scan – this may be a mammogram (X-ray of your breasts) or an ultrasound or both
  • a biopsy

You should be able to have all these tests, including the biopsy, during a single clinic visit.

Having a breast biopsy

There are several different ways to take a breast lump biopsy. Your doctor will explain which is most suitable for you. We describe them briefly here and you can watch our videos for more details of how they’re carried out.

Core needle biopsy

This is often the first choice of biopsy in many clinics. It involves taking a cylinder-shaped sample of tissue (a core) from your breast lump. Your doctor uses a special hollow needle to do this. They’ll numb the area first using a local anaesthetic, before making a tiny cut in your skin to insert the needle. They may use ultrasound or X-rays to guide the needle to exactly the right place.

Vacuum-assisted core breast biopsy

With this type of biopsy, your doctor will use a thin probe attached to a suction device to take the sample of tissue. They’ll numb the area with local anaesthetic first. Then they’ll insert the probe through a small cut in your skin. As with a core needle biopsy, your doctor may use ultrasound or X-rays to guide the probe to the right place. They can take several samples through the same probe without having to remove it.

Your doctor may put a tiny metal clip into the area where the biopsy was taken. This clip stays there to mark the site in any future mammograms you have. It will help your doctor find the area again if needed. Having the clip inside your breast is harmless and won’t cause you any problems.

Fine needle (aspiration) biopsy

In this type of biopsy, your doctor uses a very thin needle to suck out a sample of cells from the lump in your breast. You don’t usually need an anaesthetic for a fine needle aspiration biopsy. Your doctor may use ultrasound or X-rays to guide the needle to the right place.

Worried about breast health?

Book a breast check, which includes a mammogram† and get a picture of your current health with our breast health check.

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However, if you are concerned that you may have a lump, please book an urgent GP appointment for assessment, it may be more appropriate to refer you to a specialist.

After your biopsy

You’ll usually be able to get dressed and go straight home or back to work after a core needle biopsy or fine needle biopsy. But try to take it easy for the rest of the day and don’t do too much. You may need to stay at the clinic a little longer after a vacuum-assisted biopsy to check that you’re feeling well enough to travel.

Your nurse will give you information about how to look after the area where the biopsy was taken. You might have some bruising in the area afterwards, although this will wear off after a week or two. If your breast feels sore, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol.

Side-effects and complications

Breast lump biopsy is a very safe procedure, but all medical procedures carry some risks.

Side effects

Side-effects are the temporary effects of having a procedure. For breast lump biopsy, side-effects may include:

  • soreness and tenderness in your breast for a few days
  • swelling of your breast
  • bruising around the area of the biopsy which will gradually fade


Complications are problems that happen during or after a procedure. Very few women have problems from a breast lump biopsy. Possible complications include:

  • bleeding, which may lead to a haematoma (a collection of blood under the skin)
  • infection of the biopsy site

Contact your doctor if your breast becomes hot or swollen or you have pain which increases.

Getting your results

Your doctor will send your biopsy to the laboratory for examination. It may take up to a week or two for your results to come back. When you have your biopsy, ask your doctor when you can expect your results and how you’ll get them.

It’s natural to be anxious while waiting for your results. You might find it helpful to talk to a close friend or relative about how you’re feeling. Or you may prefer to talk to others who have been through a similar experience via a support group. Your doctor or nurse may know of such a group. You could also find one through some of the organisations listed in our section on other helpful websites.

You might feel some discomfort during a breast biopsy but it shouldn’t be painful. Core needle and vacuum-assisted breast biopsies are done under local anaesthesia. The anaesthetic injection might sting a little but the area of your breast will be numb while the biopsy is taken. You won’t usually need an anaesthetic if you’re having a fine needle aspiration biopsy.

Most breast lumps turn out not to be cancer. About one in 10 women who feel a lump in their breast will have cancer. For every four women who are called back for tests after a screening mammogram, only one will have cancer.

You’ll usually be able to go home or go back to work on the day of your core needle biopsy or fine needle biopsy. It’s best to take it easy, and not do too much for the rest of the day. You may have some soreness around the biopsy area for a while. You may also have some bruising which fades over a week or two.

If you find a lump or any change in your breast it’s important that you see your GP. They will assess you to see if there’s a chance that the lump could be cancer. They’ll take into account your age and any symptoms you have. They’ll also examine you. If your GP thinks cancer is a possibility, they’ll refer you for further tests. These will usually include a biopsy.

More on this topic

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