Percutaneous needle vs surgical breast biopsy: previous allegations of overuse of surgery are in error

J Am Coll Radiol. 2012 Feb;9(2):137-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2011.10.002.


Purpose: A recent paper in the American Journal of Surgery reported that surgery is used for 30% of breast biopsies, an excessive number. The investigators' stated biopsy volume included Current Procedural Terminology(®) code 19125 ("excision of breast lesion identified by preoperative placement of radiological marker, open"). However, this code may often be used when a surgeon's primary intention is not biopsy but rather excision of a lesion. Therefore, the reported results may overstate the percentage of biopsies performed as surgical procedures. The aim of this study was to more accurately assess the use of percutaneous core needle biopsy (PNB) compared with surgical biopsy.

Methods: The nationwide Medicare Part B databases for 2004 to 2009 were used. Trends in use of codes 19100 (PNB without imaging), 19102 and 19103 (PNB with imaging), 19101 (open biopsy), and the aforementioned 19125 were determined.

Results: From 2004 to 2009, the volumes of PNB with imaging (codes 19102 and 19103) increased substantially, while the volume of code 19125 decreased substantially. If one includes all 19125 claims as biopsies, the 2009 frequency of surgical biopsies was 18%. If one considers all 19125 claims as excisions, the frequency of surgical biopsies was 2%.

Conclusions: The previously published statement in the American Journal of Surgery that 30% of breast biopsies are done surgically is erroneous. Medicare data indicate that the true surgical breast biopsy figure is somewhere between 2% and 18%. Given that the recommended rate is 10%, it seems that surgeons and radiologists are collaborating well and that surgical breast biopsy is not being overused.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle / statistics & numerical data*
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast / surgery
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology