For Women Facing a Breast Biopsy

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Your breast biopsy results

Right after the tissue sample is removed, it’s sent to the lab, where a pathologist looks at it. (A pathologist is a medical doctor who is specially trained to look at cells under a microscope and identify diseases.)

If the biopsy does not show cancer

If your biopsy result comes back negative, it means that no cancer was found – the breast change is benign (not cancer). If you have any questions or feel unsure about the results, you might want to get a second opinion or pathology review. (A pathology review is having another doctor look at your biopsy tissue.) Once you feel comfortable that you do not have cancer, be sure to:

  • Get regular mammograms (See “Appendix B” for our guidelines for finding breast cancer early.)
  • Keep seeing your health care professional for routine breast exams.
  • Be aware of any changes in your breasts, and report changes to your doctor right away.
  • Talk with your doctor about your risk of breast cancer.

A mammogram may show a lump or other change that can’t be felt on a physical exam. Physical exams may find a lump or skin change that a mammogram doesn’t show. If you ever notice a change in your breasts, let your doctor know right away. Breast changes do not always mean breast cancer, but they should be checked to be sure.

If the biopsy shows breast cancer

If the biopsy shows that the lump is cancer, the report will tell your doctor some important things about the cancer.

Is it in situ or invasive?

In situ means that the cancer started in a duct (tube that carries milk from the lobule to the nipple) and has not spread to the nearby breast tissue or to other organs.

Invasive or infiltrating means that the cancer started in a lobule or a duct and has spread into nearby breast tissue. This type may spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body through the lymph system and bloodstream.

How fast is it likely to grow and spread?

Doctors called pathologists use a microscope to look at the cancer cells to see what they look like and how they are arranged. This helps them figure out the cancer’s grade. The grade tells how slowly or quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread.

Pathologists may also use ploidy, cell proliferation rate, or Ki-67 tests to give the medical team a better idea of how quickly or slowly the cancer is likely to grow and spread. These tests help your doctor to choose the best treatment.

Is the cancer HER2-positive?

Tumors with increased levels of the protein called HER2/neu are called HER2-positive. These cancers tend to grow and spread faster than other breast cancers.

HER2/neu testing should be done on all newly diagnosed invasive breast cancers. HER2-positive cancers can be treated with drugs that target the HER2/neu protein.

Will it respond to hormone therapy?

Estrogen and progesterone receptors respond to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. On breast cancer cells, these receptors can attach to the hormones which help the cancer grow. Some breast cancers have these receptors (these are called receptor-positive), and others do not (they’re receptor-negative). Finding out if a cancer has these receptors will help your doctor decide if hormone therapy will help you.

    Be sure you understand your biopsy results and what they mean. You can even ask for a copy of the pathology report to keep with your medical records.

Questions to ask about your biopsy results

After your biopsy results are back, it’s important to know if the results are final, definite results, or if another biopsy is needed. Here are some questions to ask if they are the final results:

If it’s not cancer...

  • Do I need any follow-up?
  • When should I have my next screening mammogram?

If it’s cancer...

  • Is the cancer in situ or invasive?
  • If the cancer is in situ, is it a type of cancer that can become invasive?
  • Does the cancer seem to be growing and/or spreading slowly or quickly?
  • Will the cancer respond to hormone therapy?
  • Do I need more tests to learn the stage of the cancer? (The stage is how widespread the cancer is at the time it’s found.)
  • What kind of treatment do you recommend for me, and why? Are there other options that might work?
  • When will I need to start treatment?

More information on breast cancer and its treatment can be found in our document called Breast Cancer.


Last Medical Review: 07/21/2014
Last Revised: 07/21/2014