Can a Breast Biopsy be Negative And Still Get Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a complex disease that requires accurate diagnosis and timely treatment for optimal outcomes.

There are different types of breast biopsies, such as fine-needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, and surgical biopsy, each performed with varying techniques and degrees of invasiveness.

While breast biopsies are generally reliable, they can sometimes yield false-negative results, meaning that cancer may be present despite the biopsy indicating otherwise.

In this article, we will explore the factors that can contribute to a false-negative breast biopsy, such as tumour size and location, breast tissue density, and the skill of the person performing the procedure.

this article is about, How a Breast Biopsy be False-negative

Dr. Jay Anam

Breast Cancer Specialist in Mumbai

Factors That Can Contribute to False-negative Results in Breast Biopsies

The potential for false-negative results in breast biopsies is an important consideration when interpreting the findings of these diagnostic procedures.

A false-negative result occurs when a biopsy indicates that there is no cancer present, even though cancer cells are actually present in the breast tissue.

While breast biopsies are generally accurate and reliable, several factors can contribute to the occurrence of false-negative results :

 – Sampling Error 

During a biopsy, only a small portion of the suspicious area in the breast is sampled. If the needle or surgical instrument misses the cancerous cells, the biopsy may not detect the presence of cancer.

This risk is higher in cases where the cancerous cells are scattered or located close to the edge of the lump.

 – Tumour Size & Location

Small tumors or those located deep within the breast tissue can be more challenging to target accurately during a biopsy, increasing the likelihood of a false-negative result.

 – Breast Tissue Density

Dense breast tissue can make it difficult to distinguish between normal and cancerous tissue, both in imaging studies and during a biopsy. This can result in a higher chance of false-negative findings.

 – Technical Issues

Factors such as poor-quality tissue samples, inadequate preparation of the samples, or errors in the interpretation of the biopsy results by the pathologist can also contribute to false-negative results.

 – Skill of the Person Performing the Biopsy

The experience and expertise of the professional performing the biopsy can impact the accuracy of the procedure. A more skilled practitioner may be better able to target the suspicious area and obtain an adequate tissue sample.

While the rate of false-negative results in breast biopsies is relatively low, it is crucial for patients to be aware of this possibility.

In cases where clinical or imaging findings are highly suggestive of cancer despite a negative biopsy result, additional testing or a repeat biopsy may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and ensure appropriate treatment.

Now we have seen the factors that can affect false-negative biopsies, but also knowing Myths about breast cancer biopsies is as important.

Statistics on the Rate of False-negative Breast Biopsies

While it is challenging to provide an exact percentage due to variations in study designs and populations, some general statistics can help illustrate the overall risk of false-negative results:

 – Fine-needle Aspiration (FNA) 

Studies have reported false-negative rates for FNA ranging from 2% to 25%.

The wide range can be attributed to factors like the size and location of the lesion, breast tissue density, and the experience of the person performing the procedure.

 – Core Needle Biopsy 

Core needle biopsies tend to have a lower false-negative rate compared to FNA, with studies reporting rates between 1% and 10%.

The use of imaging guidance during the procedure, such as ultrasound or mammography, can help improve the accuracy of the biopsy and further reduce the risk of false-negative results.

 – Surgical Biopsy 

Surgical biopsies are generally considered the most accurate type of breast biopsy, with false-negative rates typically reported to be less than 1%.

However, surgical biopsies are more invasive and carry higher risks of complications compared to other biopsy techniques.

It is important to note that these statistics represent average rates across various studies and populations.

Individual risk of a false-negative breast biopsy may vary depending on factors mentioned in the previous section.

Regardless of the false-negative rate, it is crucial for patients to be aware of this possibility and take appropriate steps to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Importance of Getting Regular Mammograms & Other Screening Tests

Regular mammograms and other screening tests for breast cancer are essential for early detection and timely intervention.

This may include additional testing, repeat biopsies, or close monitoring if there is ongoing suspicion of cancer despite a negative biopsy result.

The importance of maintaining a routine screening schedule can be attributed to several factors:

 – Potential for False-negative Results

As discussed earlier, breast biopsies can sometimes yield false-negative results, meaning that cancer may be present despite the biopsy indicating otherwise.

Regular mammograms and other screening tests can help detect any changes in the breast tissue that may have been missed during the biopsy.

 – New or Recurrent Breast Cancer

A negative biopsy result does not guarantee that you will never develop breast cancer in the future.

Breast cancer can develop at any time, and regular screening tests can help identify new or recurrent cases at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

 – Changes in Breast Tissue

Breast tissue can change over time due to factors such as hormonal fluctuations, aging, weight gain or loss, and the development of benign breast conditions.

Regular mammograms can help monitor these changes and detect any suspicious areas that may require further evaluation.

 – Early Detection

Mammograms and other screening tests can detect breast cancer before it causes symptoms, allowing for earlier intervention and a better prognosis.

Studies have shown that regular mammography screening can reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by 20-40% among women aged 40 and older.

 – Peace of Mind

Regular breast cancer screenings can provide reassurance and peace of mind, knowing that you are taking proactive steps to monitor your breast health and address any concerns in a timely manner.

By staying vigilant and proactive about your breast health, you can ensure that any potential issues are identified and addressed promptly, ultimately improving your chances of successful treatment and long-term health.

About Author
Dr. Jay Rashmi Anam

Surgical Oncologists


Year Of Experience

Dr. Jay Anam is one of the best surgical oncologists & breast cancer specialist in Mumbai.

Dr. Jay Anam has Completed his M.Ch. Surgical Oncology training from Tata Memorial Centre. He did his Fellowship in Breast Oncology from Centre Oscar Lambret, Lille, France.

As a breast cancer specialist, he believes in world-class cancer care for all patients.

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