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Excision biopsy of a breast lump

6-minute read

What is an excision biopsy of a breast lump?

An excision biopsy of a breast lump involves removing a lump through a small cut.

What are the benefits of surgery?

An excision biopsy is usually performed for the following reasons.

  • You may want to have the lump removed. You may have cosmetic reasons or the lump may be causing you pain.
  • Your surgeon may be concerned about the lump. The tissue will be examined under a microscope to find out if you have cancer.
An illustration of an excision biopsy.
An excision biopsy.

Are there any alternatives to an excision biopsy?

If the lump is probably benign and less than about 2 centimetres across, it may be possible to remove it using a special needle called a mammotome, but a mammotome excision is available only in a few specialist centres.

What will happen if I decide not to have the operation or the operation is delayed?

Your surgeon may not be able to confirm if you have cancer or recommend the best treatment for you. If your surgeon suspects the lump might be cancerous, the procedure will not be delayed.

If you are waiting for the operation or have chosen not to have it and you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare team.

  • the lump getting bigger or noticeable to others
  • new concerns about the lump
  • new or worsening pain

If the lump is caused by cancer, early diagnosis and treatment will increase the chance of you being free of cancer.

What does the operation involve?

If your surgeon cannot feel the lump, a breast radiologist will carry out a marking procedure using a mammogram machine or ultrasound scanner. This procedure will guide your surgeon to find out where the lump is.

The operation is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but various anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes about 30 minutes.

If possible your surgeon will make the cut on the line of the areola (the darker area around your nipple).

Your surgeon will go through your breast gland and remove the lump.

How can I prepare myself for the operation?

If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight.

Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

If you have not had the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • continued lumpiness under your wound
  • continued pain
  • dissatisfaction with breast appearance over time
  • change of nipple sensation

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day.

You should be able to return to work after 3 to 7 days.

You should be able to return to normal activities after about 10 days.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

The healthcare team will arrange for you to come back to the clinic within 3 weeks. The lump that your surgeon removed will have been examined under a microscope. Your surgeon will tell you the results, check your wound, and discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

Summary

An excision biopsy involves removing a lump from your breast. It can help prevent an unsightly appearance and find out what is causing the lump. If the lump is causing you pain, you may get relief from the pain.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022


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