Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNA) and Tru-cut needle biopsy (TNB) have been used for the pre-operative diagnosis of cancer in breast masses as alternatives to open breast biopsy. The accuracy of clinical examination, fine needle aspiration biopsy and Tru-cut needle biopsy was assessed in 230 patients with palpable breast masses and the value of using both biopsy methods in the management was prospectively evaluated. Clinical diagnosis had a sensitivity of 89.2% and specificity of 78.4% (32.7% false positive, 6.5% false negative). Aspiration cytology was diagnostic in 78.4% of cancers and 71.6% of benign lesions [excluding non-diagnostic samples (27.4%), sensitivity was 96.6% and specificity was 100%]. Tru-cut needle biopsy identified 82.9% of cancers and 61.7% of benign lesions [excluding non-diagnostic samples (33.3%), sensitivity was 96.7% and specificity was 100%]. There were no false positive errors with either aspiration cytology or needle biopsy. Statistical comparison showed that there was no significant difference between aspiration cytology and needle biopsy. The combined result of both biopsies was superior to clinical examination when non-diagnostic samples were excluded. With the routine use of both biopsy techniques, frozen section was avoided in 73% of all cancers and unnecessary operations were avoided in 33.5% of patients which included breast cysts, benign mammary dysplasia and inflammatory lesions.