Getting a Biopsy
Mammograms can give us a picture of where the potential problem is, but they cannot diagnose a cancer or DCIS only a biopsy can do that. A biopsy is a sample of breast tissue taken from the patient and used to establish a diagnosis. If a mammogram shows a worrisome area, a biopsy is likely to be recommended.
The biopsy procedure provides one or more pieces of breast tissue for examination under a powerful microscope by a medical doctor called a pathologist, who will study the tissue to determine whether or not cancer is present. The pathologist diagnoses breast disease by performing a variety of microscopic and other laboratory examinations on the biopsied tissue. If no cancer is found, the pathologist will determine what kinds of cells are in the tissue sample and whether they are likely to develop into something that might become a cancer. It is important to have the biopsied tissue examined by a cytopathologist that is, a pathologist who specializes in cancer.
There are a number of different kinds of biopsies. To get an accurate diagnosis and correct treatment, it's critical to have the right type of biopsy. Here's why: Let's say that a round teaspoonful of cookie dough represents breast tissue and that a small frozen pea represents the suspicious area that is needed for biopsy. Now put the two next to each other and roll them together until the pea disappears inside the ball of dough. It is impossible to see where the pea is located. It might be in the middle, off to the side, or somewhere in between. If you take a hollow needle, such as one that is commonly used in a biopsy, and put it into the dough, you will get something in the hollow of the needle it might be a piece of the pea or it might just be cookie dough. It might be necessary to take multiple samples with that hollow needle before you find the pea.
This illustrates the importance of getting several biopsy samples from different parts of the tissue specimen. If only one area is tested, important cells may be missed and a misdiagnosis of the problem can result.
Also, some important reassurance: biopsy surgery cannot cause breast cancer to spread.