Systematic review: comparative effectiveness of core-needle and open surgical biopsy to diagnose breast lesions

Ann Intern Med. 2010 Feb 16;152(4):238-46. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-152-1-201001050-00190. Epub 2009 Dec 14.


Background: Most women undergoing breast biopsy are found not to have cancer.

Purpose: To compare the accuracy and harms of different breast biopsy methods in average-risk women suspected of having breast cancer.

Data sources: Databases, including MEDLINE and EMBASE, searched from 1990 to September 2009.

Study selection: Studies that compared core-needle biopsy diagnoses with open surgical diagnoses or clinical follow-up.

Data extraction: Data were abstracted by 1 of 3 researchers and verified by the primary investigator.

Data synthesis: 33 studies of stereotactic automated gun biopsy; 22 studies of stereotactic-guided, vacuum-assisted biopsy; 16 studies of ultrasonography-guided, automated gun biopsy; 7 studies of ultrasonography-guided, vacuum-assisted biopsy; and 5 studies of freehand automated gun biopsy met the inclusion criteria. Low-strength evidence showed that core-needle biopsies conducted under stereotactic guidance with vacuum assistance distinguished between malignant and benign lesions with an accuracy similar to that of open surgical biopsy. Ultrasonography-guided biopsies were also very accurate. The risk for severe complications is lower with core-needle biopsy than with open surgical procedures (<1% vs. 2% to 10%). Moderate-strength evidence showed that women in whom breast cancer was initially diagnosed by core-needle biopsy were more likely than women with cancer initially diagnosed by open surgical biopsy to be treated with a single surgical procedure (random-effects odds ratio, 13.7 [95% CI, 5.5 to 34.6]).

Limitation: The strength of evidence was rated low for accuracy outcomes because the studies did not report important details required to assess the risk for bias.

Conclusion: Stereotactic- and ultrasonography-guided core-needle biopsy procedures seem to be almost as accurate as open surgical biopsy, with lower complication rates.

Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy / adverse effects
  • Biopsy / methods*
  • Biopsy, Needle / adverse effects
  • Biopsy, Needle / methods*
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast / surgery
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stereotaxic Techniques
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary
  • Vacuum