What Happens to my Breast Biopsy When it is Sent To Pathology?

One of the most frightening things to hear from your doctor is that you need to have a breast biopsy. What can be equally difficult is the amount of time it takes from your biopsy to hearing the biopsy results from your doctor. Since we believe patients are best served by having as much information in their hands as possible, this article is about explaining what happens between the time of your biopsy or surgery and getting your test results. Here is a brief explanation of what happens:

  • You have a core needle biopsy or a surgical procedure.
  • The breast tissue is placed into a fixative solution that will harden the tissue so it can be processed.
  • The tissue stays in this fixative for anywhere from a few hours to overnight depending on the size of the tissue and the time of day the procedure was performed.
  • If a core biopsy was performed, all of the biopsy specimens are processed. If a larger procedure was performed by your surgeon, the pathologist reviews the specimen and decides how much of the tissue to send through to the Histology lab for processing.
  • The tissue is then processed in the Histology laboratory where it goes through several steps resulting in the tissue being embedded in a paraffin block. This process can also take several hours to overnight.
  • The histotechnologist “cuts” a section from the paraffin block, places it on a slide, and stains the slide for the pathologist to read under the microscope.
  • The pathologist makes a diagnosis and issues a pathology report.

Depending on the diagnosis, additional tests may need to be run on your breast biopsy. For example, if a diagnosis of invasive carcinoma is made, the cancer must be sent for immunohistochemistry and possibly FISH which can take an additional day to even a week depending on the laboratory performing the test.

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