What is a Stereotactic Biopsy?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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A stereotactic biopsy is a non-surgical alternative to obtain a tissue sample from the breast to test for the presence of cancer. Unlike some other types of biopsies, this procedure is minimally invasive, generally painless, and doesn’t require hospitalization or a recovery period. In fact, the entire procedure usually takes less than an hour and involves little more than a local anesthetic. However, the patient may be sedated at the physician’s discretion.

Usually, a stereotactic biopsy is a follow-up to the detection of a suspicious mass or structural change in the breast picked up by physical examination or imaging tests, such as a mammogram. While these tests may indicate the presence of an abnormality, they cannot deduce whether or not a tumor is malignant (cancerous), or a benign accumulation of calcium deposits. In addition, imaging tests sometimes reveal a suspicious lump, but one too small to be felt by physical touch. In these cases, a stereotactic biopsy can pinpoint its precise location.


The procedure is unique in that it provides the technician with a multi-dimensional view of the breast abnormality. This is achieved through the use of a computer-assisted guided imaging machine that takes two x-rays of the site from different angles. Once the targeted site is located, tissue or fluid samples are extracted via a hollow core needle or a vacuum-assisted device (VAD) to retrieve several samples from the same site at the same time. Due to the use of these instruments, this procedure is also known as a stereotactic core biopsy or stereotactic mammographically guided biopsy.

How the patient is positioned during the procedure varies with each facility. Sometimes a stereotactic biopsy is performed while sitting, or the patient may be lying face down with the breast exposed through an opening in the table. In either case, it’s important that the patient remain as still as possible during the procedure. In addition, the biopsy site is sometimes enhanced with a marker to make it easier to locate later, if necessary. In this case, secondary imaging is performed after the biopsy is complete to ensure the marker is placed at the correct location.

Other than avoiding the risk of scarring, stereotactic biopsy has several advantages over surgical biopsy. For one thing, it costs about 30 percent less. It is also a highly efficient means to explore calcifications and small lumps that aren’t usually detected by ultrasound. In addition, the breast tissue remains unaffected at the biopsy site, meaning there will be little risk of distortion in future mammogram readings. Perhaps most important is the fact that stereotactic biopsy is just as effective as traditional biopsy methods in identifying breast cancer.



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