A breast biopsy can help a doctor diagnose breast cancer. It involves removing a small amount of tissue or fluid from the breast and testing it for abnormal cells. A person’s recovery can depend on the type of biopsy and anesthetic involved.
A doctor may recommend a biopsy if there is a lump or mass in the breast, an irregularity on a mammogram, bleeding from the nipple, or other symptoms of a health problem in the area.
There are different types of breast biopsy, and the type a doctor recommends may depend on factors such as the size or location of a lump.
The types of biopsies include:
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: A doctor inserts a fine needle into the area to remove a small amount of fluid or tissue to test. Core needle biopsy: The doctor inserts a larger needle into the area to remove a bigger, cylindrical sample of tissue to test. Surgical biopsy: The doctor makes an incision to remove part or all of the area of concern, such as a lump. They may also need to remove some healthy surrounding tissue.
After a breast biopsy, a person should receive emergency medical care if they experience any concerning symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or signs of a blood clot in the leg. These signs can include pain, swelling, or color changes in the leg area.
Below, we explore what to expect after the procedure, how long recovery may take, and how to care for the site of the biopsy.
A person’s recovery may depend on the type of biopsy and whether it involved a local or general anesthetic.
A doctor injects a local anesthetic to numb the breast. In this case, the person stays awake during the biopsy but feels no pain. They may be able to return home after a short period of monitoring, but they should arrange for a ride.
If a person receives a general anesthetic, they are not awake during the biopsy. They will spend time in a recovery room afterward, where a healthcare professional will monitor them, measuring their blood pressure, pulse, and breathing.
Once these measurements have stabilized and the person is fully alert, they may be able to go home, or the doctor may recommend resting in the hospital. The person should arrange for a ride home.
After a biopsy, there may be some bleeding, swelling, or bruising in the area, and swelling can make the breast seem larger. The swelling is
There may also be soreness for several days afterward, and taking pain relief medication can help.
Also, if a person has had a general anesthetic, they may have a sore throat due to the use of breathing tubes.
How to ease the pain
To help reduce the bruising in the first 1–2 days, a person can apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the area for 10–15 minutes at a time.
Also, a person may find that wearing a supportive bra helps ease any pain.
Soreness in the throat should resolve without treatment, though gargling and taking pain relief medications can help. Contact a healthcare professional if the symptoms do not resolve after 2 days.
People may experience soreness, tenderness, and bruising for several days after a breast biopsy.
The type of biopsy can influence how long recovery takes.
It is important to follow all the aftercare instructions from a healthcare professional. What they recommend typically depends on the type of biopsy:
If a person has had this type of biopsy, they may need to:
- Keep the area clean and dry for 24 hours afterward.
- If there are no stitches, remove any bandages or dressings as instructed, then bathe as usual.
- If there are stitches, a healthcare professional will remove them at a follow-up appointment.
If a person prefers, they may be able replace the dressing with a small Band-Aid until the wound has healed.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends keeping the site dry and covered for 48 hours.
If bleeding or significant swelling occurs, a person should press firmly on the area for 10 minutes, the NHS says.
It is particularly important to follow aftercare instructions after a surgical biopsy. This might involve:
- leaving on any tape strips over the wound until they fall off, which may take around 7–10 days
- cutting away the edges of the tape if it begins to peel
- not bathing for the first 1–2 days
Contact a doctor if the tape begins to irritate the skin.
A person can continue eating their usual diet, unless a doctor instructs them otherwise.
If any nausea or changes in appetite follow the biopsy, it may help to eat bland foods, such as plain rice, chicken, toast, or yogurt.
Pain relief medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help ease mild soreness after a breast biopsy.
People should avoid taking anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), unless a doctor recommends it. These drugs may cause bleeding, but a doctor may still recommend them if a person’s bleeding risk is low.
Anyone taking aspirin or any blood-thinning medications should check with a doctor about which drugs are safe to take during recovery.
A person needs to limit certain activities after a breast biopsy. For the first few days to 1 week, avoid intense or strenuous exercise, including running and jogging. Also, avoid lifting anything heavier than 5 pounds, or 2.3 kilograms.
Gentle stretches can help a person regain arm and shoulder movement and prevent stiffness, but check with a doctor first. Overall, it is crucial to follow the doctor’s aftercare advice.
After 1–2 days, people can usually return to their activities, apart from intense exercise and lifting. A doctor can give more specific guidance, taking into account the nature of a person’s job.
To support their recovery, a person should focus on getting enough quality rest and sleep, having a healthy diet, and drinking plenty of fluids.
It is important to have help with heavy items, such as groceries, for the first week after a biopsy.
People may also want to reach out to friends and family members for emotional support. In addition, it can help to join a local support group or online community of people who have had similar experiences.
Contact a doctor if any of the following occurs after a breast biopsy:
Contact emergency services if any of the following occurs after a breast biopsy:
- shortness of breath
- coughing up blood
- chest pain
- signs of a blood clot in the leg, such as pain, swelling, or redness in the leg
- excessive bleeding
A breast biopsy involves taking a sample of fluid or tissue from the breast for analysis. It can help a doctor diagnose breast cancer. The biopsy may be surgical or nonsurgical, depending on the size of area that the doctor needs to examine.
Afterward, there may be bleeding, bruising, swelling, and soreness, which ease over time. Taking certain pain relief medications, using cold compresses, and resting can help speed the recovery.
If any unusual or severe symptoms follow a breast biopsy, contact a healthcare professional.