How do they test a biopsy for cancer? How long does it take to do a biopsy of the breast?

What is a biopsy?

The term "biopsy," of course, does not apply only to the breast. It is a surgical procedure in which a part (incisional biopsy) or all (excisional biopsy) of any tumor, growth, cyst, flesh, or organ anywhere in the body is removed so that its nature may be determined by microscopic examination. The results of this examination, called the pathology report, indicate the exact diagnosis and help select the proper method of treatment, which may be further surgery, X-ray treatment, drug administration or no treatment at all.

How is the biopsy treatment done? 

This is a regular operation performed in the hospital on at least an overnight stay. It is usually done under general anesthesia so that the patient is asleep. The excised tissue is rapidly frozen like dry ice and cut into thin slices that can be viewed under the microscope. This procedure takes 15-30 minutes. It is employed only when this information is required during surgery as a guide to determining the exact nature of the diseased tissue. The surgeon's action is based on this report. If the report is benign, the operation is terminated with the biopsy. If it shows the tissue to be cancerous, the surgeon and his team may proceed with further surgery. Occasionally the frozen section examination is not completely satisfactory, in which case the tissue is placed in wax instead of being frozen and it is examined 12 hours later. This is called the paraffin section. In this circumstance no surgical decision is made until the diagnostic tissue study is satisfactorily completed.

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