If you have had a biopsy to diagnose breast cancer or you have had breast cancer surgery, the tissue removed will be looked at under a microscope by a doctor called a pathologist.
Tests may also be done on the tissue to get more information.
The results give details about the breast cancer that helps determine the treatment you’re offered.
Waiting for biopsy results?
If you’re waiting for the results of a biopsy, you may find it useful to read our information and tips about waiting for your biopsy results.
Results usually take between one and two weeks.
Some tests take longer than others and may be done in a different hospital to the one where you’re being treated.
Occasionally pathologists get a second opinion about the results which can also delay them.
Your specialist or breast care nurse should be able to tell you when your results will be ready.
Most people feel anxious waiting for their results. How long you wait depends on the type of biopsy or surgery you had and where you’re being treated.
Getting your results
When you first get your results, you may find it hard to take everything in.
It can help to bring a relative or close friend with you to the appointment.
If you’re told anything you don’t understand, ask your specialist or breast care nurse to explain.
You can also call the Breast Cancer Now Helpline on 0808 800 6000 to help you understand the results.
Each time you have tissue removed, it’s looked at under a microscope and a report is written by a pathologist.
You can ask for a copy of your pathology report to read through with a member of your breast care team or later in your own time.
The amount of detail in each report will depend on what tissue was removed and how much.
Not all reports include the same amount of information. For example, a report after a biopsy will not contain all the information that’s in a report after surgery.
You may need to wait for all your reports to come back before a full treatment plan can be decided.
Not all pathology reports look the same. The layout and terms used vary between hospitals. However, most follow this structure.
This will include your name, date of birth and hospital number, your specialist’s name and the date of your surgery or biopsy.
This is the information given to the pathologist about the tissue removed, such as which breast it came from and where it was in the breast.
Features of the breast tissue before it’s looked at under a microscope
This section may include information about:
- The overall size, weight and appearance of the tissue
- How it was prepared to be looked at under the microscope
Features of the cancer seen under a microscope
This section of the report describes various features, which are listed below.
Summary of the main points
This will often be a list at the beginning or end of the report.
The following information is commonly found in pathology results:
- The type of breast cancer
- The size of the cancer
- The grade of the cancer
- Whether all the cancer has been removed during surgery
- If there are any cancer cells in the lymph or blood vessels
- If any of the lymph nodes under the arm contain cancer cells
- If hormones are helping the cancer to grow
- If the cancer is HER2 positive or negative
All the information in pathology results is considered together when deciding which treatments to offer you and their likely benefits.
No one piece of information should be looked at on its own – it always needs to be related to all your other results.
We’ve put together a list of questions you may want to ask your treatment team about your results.
If there’s anything in your pathology report that you do not understand, you may want to check our glossary for the definition.
If you would like to discuss the report, give our Helpline a call and speak to one of our nurses or trained staff.