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Needle biopsy

Find out about having a needle biopsy of the breast and what happens afterwards. This test is also called a core biopsy.

What it is

A needle biopsy of the breast is a way of taking a sample of cells from the breast tissue. Your doctor or nurse uses a hollow needle to take the sample. The samples can then be examined under a microscope. This can show whether there is a cancer or another type of breast condition such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). 

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 ultrasound.

Preparing for your test

You are able to eat and drink normally before a biopsy. 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 procedure and ask you to sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions that you have.

The test takes about 20 minutes. A staff member will ask you to take off your upper clothing, including your bra. You might put on a hospital gown.

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 or nurse cleans the breast area. They might use a local anaesthetic to numb the skin, which might sting a little. Then they gently put a hollow needle into your breast and take a sample of cells. 

You will 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 might take more than one sample to make sure there is enough tissue to look at under the microscope.

Diagram of a core biopsy of the breast

The doctor or a nurse puts pressure on your breast for a few minutes after the test. This is to try to prevent bleeding or bruising.

You might have a paper stitch over the site with a waterproof dressing over the top.

After your needle biopsy

You can get dressed and go home or back to work straight afterwards if you like. But try not to do too much for the rest of the day.

You can take paracetamol if your breast is sore or tender. Your doctor or nurse will let you know how to look after the biopsy area and your dressing. You can have a shower or bath as normal if you have a waterproof dressing.

You might see some bruising in the area and 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 needle biopsy is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards.

Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a needle biopsy outweigh these possible risks.


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


Some people have swelling after the test but this is uncommon. Let your doctor know if the area is swollen or very painful.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.