Unnecessarily Invasive Breast Biopsies

Jennifer Shapiro

April 2011

When a doctor finds a suspicious lump on a breast, a biopsy may be necessary to determine if it is cancer.  A study by physicians at the University of Florida has found that doctors are performing unnecessarily high numbers of open surgical biopsies, instead of biopsy procedures that are as effective but less invasive. The authors reported that one-third of all biopsy procedures performed in Florida in 2008 were surgical, which although lower than in previous years, is still far above the recommended rate of 5-10%.

A needle biopsy is the preferred procedure to determine if a suspicious lesion is cancerous. The needle is inserted in the lesion and a sample of the fluid is obtained and then sent to a laboratory.  This highly accurate procedure usually can be used instead of a surgical procedure.  The needle biopsy leaves less scar tissue, has fewer complications, does not require surgery, and is significantly less expensive.  The study authors point out that replacing more surgical biopsies with needle biopsies would save hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide. It also is less emotionally traumatic for patients.

An estimated 1.6 million biopsies are performed each year in the U.S.  It is therefore important to increase physicians’ and patients’ knowledge of the value of minimally invasive breast biopsies, as well as doctors’ access to it.

This study, which analyzed records from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration from 2003-2008, is the largest of its kind and included patients with both benign and malignant breast tumors. It is not clear if these results can be generalized to other states, but there is reason to believe that many states will have similar biopsy patterns to Florida.

Source:
Gutwein, L., Ang, D., Liu, H., Marshall, Julia., Hochwald, S., Copeland, E., & Grobmyer, S. (2011). A new study Utilization of minimally invasive breast biopsy for the evaluation of suspicious breast lesions. The American Journal of Surgery.