The Biopsy

When a  woman’s mammogram confirms a lump must be further scrutinized by a biopsy, it’s difficult to squelch the imagination and stop oneself from conjuring up countless worst case scenarios. Women are particularly adept at imagining the worst and anticipating a biopsy can be pretty darn frightening. I think it’s more the idea of needles and malignancies that is terrifyingly unsettling. Just the terms core needle biopsy, fine needle aspiration, vacum-assisted breast biopsy, incisional biopsy and excisional biopsy sound pretty darn daunting.

While I cannot pretend I was not terrified before my biopsy, I did perhaps surprisingly discover my biopsy experience itself was not that bad. I would not have had to be so anxious about the procedure itself.

Whoever came up with the idea to open up “breast centers” devoted to this type procedure was a genius. My mother had a biopsy at the Fairview Southdale Hospital Breast Center in Bloomington, MN and mine was done at the Hers Breast Center of Luther Midlefort Hospital in Eau Claire, WI. Both of these facilities go out of their way to make the procedure as easy as possible on a woman.

At the Hers Breast Center there was beautiful stained-glass artwork in the windows, coffee simmering and relaxing music and lighting. The nurses and technicians wore regular clothing and even the changing rooms exuded warmth in the deep-colored rich wooden cabinetry. Femininity, kindness, respect and compassion seemed to be mixed right in with the decor. There was respect and empathy without pity. Breast center staff members understand women, breasts, cancer, fear and anxiety. They know they have no control over what the results of a biopsy might be, but they can control the procedure itself. I don’t think I have ever been treated as kindly and gently as I was that day.

I had an ultra-sound guided core needle biopsy. Once changed into my pink flowered gown, I was instructed to lie down on a narrow table that felt like I would roll off if I moved around or even blinked an eye. I was covered with a warm blanket which immediately relaxed me and I noticed the procedure room was also dimly lit and filled with pictures of flowers, seashells and other nature stuff. The only discomfort I felt was a slight stinging as the local anesthetic was injected, which thankfully took effect immediately.

“I’m going to take the first sample now,” my radiologist calmly informed me mere minutes later. Immediately there was a popping sound, sort of like a nail or staple gun shooting off. That’s when the sample was cut, sucked up, collected and saved to be analyzed. It sounded way worse than it felt. Five or six samples the size of tiny grains of rice were taken and each time I jumped a bit even though I knew what was coming. The jolts were startling and unexpected, but not painful. “Be sure you get enough,” was my comment. “I don’t want to come back.”

I watched the whole procedure on a computer screen observing my new enemy, the shadowy looking clump of darkness, that would determine my future. Ten or fifteen minutes later the procedure was over. After a short recovery which included plenty of time for instructions and questions, my husband and I were on our way home.

If you find a lump, don’t put off a mammogram or totally freak out about a biopsy. You can at least rest assured your experience will be made as easy for you as possible. Try not to let your imagination drive you crazy!

Have you had a biopsy or do you know someone who has? If so, what was your experience like?

PREPARING FOR A BIOPSY

1. Reveiw your mammogram results with your doctor and look at the area in question.

2. Biopsies are not emergencies, so plan it to fit around your schedule (NO, this is NOT an excuse to put it off!).

3. Understand the different types of biopsies and learn what kind you are having and WHY.

4. Ask how long it will take to get results and how you will receive them.

5. Plan to have someone drive you if at all possible.

6. Get all of your questions answered before signing any forms.

7. Plan to do little when you get home, you’ll need rest and ice.

8. Try not to imagine every possible worst-case scenario and remember you WILL survive a biopsy!

 

15 comments


  • Teresa

    September 30, 2010

    Good advice. I found the biopsy not so bad either. But yes, that “staple gun” noise is alarming!

    • Nancy

      September 30, 2010

      Glad to see you back Teresa! The biopsy part seems long ago. Glad yours wasn’t too bad either.

  • Lindsay

    September 30, 2010

    Very helpful post. I hope it helps to ease the anxiety for someone before she has to have a biopsy.

    • Nancy

      September 30, 2010

      That’s my hope! Thanks Lindsay for your comments.

  • Catherine.

    October 2, 2010

    Hi Nancy,
    I have to say I was terrified the night before my Biopsy I could not even sleep with worry it was not as bad as I expected. But I was delighted it was over. You have given some great advice :)

    • Nancy

      October 3, 2010

      Catherine, I worried the night before as well. I have lost so much sleep during all of this! My intent with that post was to ease someone’s worries just a bit, but I don’t know if that is really possible. Thanks for commenting!

  • kim

    October 3, 2010

    Hi Nancy,

    Finally I have been able to check out your web page. Hey, we only live two states away from each other. I have only had a chance to read this post–very informative and encouraging. I have had to have two biopsys: one was steriotatic guided–not too bad, the other was ultrasound guided–that was aweful–the radiologists said it was like trying to chisle through a rock and the tumor was blocking the novaciane from spreading into the breast tissue–guess that should have been my first clue that we were dealing with a “bad boy!” Well, I am off to read some of your other posts and will be saving your webpage under my favorites. Thanks for dropping by my blog.

  • Alli

    October 12, 2010

    I had gone through at least 4 breast biopsies previous to the last one. Namely they were just lumps of no significance.

    I think you fairly described the emotions. I know when I heard the click felt a little painless tug from several areas of my breast. It was too late to jump off the table run and hide. I already knew I had a malignancy but didn’t know I had three seperate ones. But here I am a year later breastless which is not so bad really….
    Looking forward in reading your blog further….

    Alli x

    • Nancy

      October 12, 2010

      Alli, Thank you for coming to my blog and taking time to comment. Now I can check yours out as well. You have a lot of experience with biopsies I guess. Glad you are doing ok a year later.

  • Lopsided Blogger

    May 2, 2014

    I was in denial at my core needle biopsy, so wasn’t worried at all. After the doctor explained the procedure, I thought about leaving and even said maybe we didn’t need to do something so invasive and waste everyone’s time. That’s how you think when you’re in your 30s and people are saying you might have breast cancer. No way, but obviously it happens. After the doctor changed from saying “it could be nothing” to “but this one looks like we don’t want it to look,” I decided to stay, and the rest is surreal history. The biopsy itself, aside from the jarring clamping noises, wasn’t bad. They called to ask how I was doing the next day, which I thought was nice. I was surprised when they charged each tumor separately and equally, but I was new to big hospital bills then.

    • Nancy

      May 2, 2014

      Lopsided Blogger, It’s certainly understandable that you didn’t feel you could be diagnosed with breast cancer while in your 30s. It happens though, as you know all too well. I think my people called me the next day too. Plus, they sent me a really nice card they had all signed. They really tried their best to ease things for me a bit. Thanks for reading and commenting on this oldie.

  • Kathy H.

    May 2, 2014

    My biopsy showed ductal carcinoma…..I had Stage III B invasive lobular! The ductal diagnosis was all wrong. The little clipping sounds freaked me out! So minor compared to what I have gone through in the past 5 years!

    • Nancy

      May 3, 2014

      Kathy, Yes, those little clipping sounds were strange for sure. I can still hear them… Weird how your diagnosis was all wrong, talk about stressful. You’ve been through a lot in the past five years I’m sure. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

  • Kerry

    May 13, 2014

    I am not sure what happened during my biopsy but it was one of the most excruciatingly painful procedures. I nearly passed out on the table. The Radiologist wanted to stop the procedure but I told him to just get his samples and get out of there quickly. This was my initiation my nightmare. It never got any better.

    • Nancy

      May 14, 2014

      Kerry, I’m sorry your experience was so awful. I suppose it depends on where the tumor is and lots of other factors. My experience wasn’t bad. As always, the experience varies from patient to patient. Thanks for reading and sharing.

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