Surgical Breast Biopsy: Types of Biopsies

A surgical breast biopsy requires a cut (incision) in the skin. This allows your doctor to take a large piece of tissue from the breast. In fact, sometimes the whole lump is removed. (This is called an excisional biopsy.) In some cases, only a piece of a large tumor may be taken out (called an excisional biopsy). The tissue sample is then sent to a lab for study.

Most women don't need a surgical biopsy. Changed breast tissue can often be removed with a needle and sent for testing. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure that a change in your breast is breast cancer.


Side view of female breast with ducts and lobules ghosted in. Dotted line over lump shows incision for surgical biopsy.

Side view of female breast with ducts and lobules ghosted in showing wire going through skin into lump.

Open surgical biopsy

Open surgical biopsy removes a tissue sample through small cut in the skin over the lump. To keep you from feeling pain during the biopsy, you will likely be given IV (intravenous) sedation. This causes you to sleep and you don't feel the surgery. Your surgeon then makes an incision in your breast. If possible, this is done in a way that hides the scar. In most cases, all of the lump is removed. The incision is closed with stitches. Some stitches dissolve on their own. Others may need to be removed when the incision heals.

Wire localization

A lump that can’t be felt may be hard to locate. In such a case, a mammogram or ultrasound is used to locate the area. A thin needle is then used to put in the wire. One or more thin guide wires may be placed in your breast before biopsy surgery to mark the tissue that is to be removed. Then you’re taken to the operating room for surgery. The wire is removed during the biopsy.