The best way to determine if a breast lump is cancerous is to have a specimen surgically removed for laboratory analysis. This means some scarring of the breast usually occurs, no matter how careful and precise the surgical procedure.
For the past 27 months, Northwest Imaging at Sacred Heart Medical Center has been able to offer women an alternative to surgical biopsy with an outpatient procedure called stereotactic biopsy. It uses a computer-aided tracking system to insert a hollow needle into the breast to remove a tissue sample.
Typically, five to seven samples are removed, leaving only a tiny mark on the skin about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. On average, the cost is 40 percent less than surgery, in part because generaly anesthesia is not required.
To date, close to 500 women have had stereotactic breast biopsy at Northwest Imaging. Of those, 19 percent were diagnosed with cancer, a statistic identical to national averages.
Denise Davidson, a supervisor at Northwest Imaging, says the test ultimately is reassuring:”Once you tell a woman about a suspicious growth she is anxious. Telling her we can analyze that growth without surgery is a great comfort to her.”
Davidson said not all women qualify for needle biopsy, but for those who do, the procedure has proved effective.