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Fine needle aspiration

A fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a way of taking a sample of cells from the breast tissue. Your doctor uses a fine needle and syringe to take the cells. The samples can then be examined under a microscope. 

It is also called fine needle aspiration cytology or FNAC.

You might have this test in the outpatient department of the hospital. Or you might have it in a one-stop breast clinic after other tests, such as a breast x-ray (mammogram) or breast ultrasound.

Preparing for your fine needle aspiration

You are able to eat and drink normally before an FNA. Take your medicines as normal. But if you are taking any blood thinning medicines you might need to stop them before the test. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to stop.

What happens

Your doctor or nurse will give you information about the test. This is a good time to ask any questions that you have.

Having a fine needle aspirate takes a few minutes, but you will be with the doctor for about 15 minutes. Part of this time is making sure you understand the procedure and you are comfortable.

You lie on a couch and the doctor or nurse does an ultrasound of your breast. This finds the right place to take the sample.

The doctor cleans the breast area. Then they gently put a small needle into your breast and take a sample of fluid and cells. You might feel some pressure on the breast but it shouldn’t be too painful. Let the doctor know if it’s painful for you.

When they have the sample of cells they remove the needle. They put a small plaster over the test area.

The sample goes to the laboratory where a specialist doctor looks at the cells closely.

Diagram of fine needle aspiration of the breast

After your fine needle aspiration

You can get dressed and go home or back to work straight afterwards. The plaster can be removed after a couple of hours.

You can take paracetamol if your breast is sore or tender. And you can have a shower or bath as normal.

Sometimes you may notice bruising in the area, this is normal. It will go after a week or two.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

A fine needle aspiration is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a fine needle aspiration outweigh these possible risks.

Bleeding

It’s rare to have any bleeding after your fine needle aspiration. Your doctor or nurse will give you advice on what to do if you have any bleeding.

Swelling

Some people have swelling afterwards but this is rare. Let your doctor know if the area is swollen or very painful.

Information and help