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Stereotactic Biopsies in Detecting Breast Cancer by Angela Lindner

In 2014, over 2.8 million women in the United States alone had a record of a history of breast cancer, and a further 295,240 are estimated to be diagnosed this year. If that cancer is discovered at an early enough stage, the patient has a better chance of surviving. Several medical procedures can be used to help detect cancer and cancerous growths, such as what is referred to as a stereotactic breast biopsy. A biopsy is a low-risk procedure where a very small needle and wire are inserted into the body to retrieve fluid or tissue, usually a lump or a mass. This fluid or tissue is then brought to a laboratory for testing. The stereotactic breast biopsy method can be broken down and described as an x-ray-guided needle biopsy that is used to help guide surgeons to suspicious breast tissue and is then further examined for cancer or other disorders.

The first step of a stereotactic biopsy is a standard diagnostic mammogram by a technician. After taking several X-rays of the breasts from different angles, a radiologist will examine the images to check for any irregularities. If the radiologist detects anything suspicious, the patient may be given an ultrasound on the area of suspicion. If those results are still irregular and still suspected to be cancerous, a biopsy may be performed.

In preparation for the biopsy, the patient will undress from the waist up. The breast will be cleansed and injected with numbing medicine so that the patient will experience minimal pain and stress. The patient will then lie face down on a table with a hole that he or she will place their breast inside. The breast will hang through the hole and be compressed by two plates. These plates will keep the breast in place while the doctor makes a superficial incision, which will guide the needle. A vacuum-assisted device (VAD) will proceed to insert the biopsy needle into the abnormal area until it reaches the possible cancerous growth. Several samples of tissue will be taken to a laboratory where a pathologist will determine whether or not the growth is benign or malignant.

After the tissue is collected from the patient, the doctor may insert a small metal clip into the incision, just in case further surgery is needed. These clips are used to mark the breast for a surgical biopsy if it is needed. Pressure and ice will be applied to the breast to prevent any further bleeding and swelling, and the incision will be closed with adhesive strips. The patient may then return home and wait for the results of the samples, which will determine whether or not he or she will need to return for further action.

If the tissue is found to be cancerous by the pathologist, there are many possibilities of what kind of breast cancer is present. These could be invasive cancers like Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). IDC is when cancer cells start to grow in the milk ducts of the breast, further spreading to the rest of the fatty breast tissue and then the bloodstream. But there is also a possibility of the tissue being found non-cancerous. Non-cancerous lumps such as the benign lumps called adenofibroma can either be removed by lumpectomy, or left in the breast to be checked up on later.

Thanks to procedures like stereotactic breast biopsies, more and more men and women are given a better chance of survival and a longer life. Like anything, this procedure is not perfect. There is constant research that is being put into discovering even more effective methods of breast cancer detection and treatment.











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