How common are complications during stereotactic vacuum-assisted breast biopsies?

Significant complications are rarely associated with stereotactic vacuum-assisted breast biopsies (SVABs), according to new research published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

The study’s authors wrote that unnecessary biopsies and complications related to biopsies are often cited as potential harms of mammographic breast cancer screening, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) specifically used such issues to help explain why it changed its mammography recommendations in 2009. Noting that there has not been much recent research on this specific topic, the team wanted to explore how often such complications occur.

The authors examined data from more than 4,700 patients who underwent SVAB with a 9-gauge needle between 2003 and 2016 at a single institution, finding 6.7 percent of those patients experienced a complication. Of those patients, 96.2 percent had mild complications and 3.8 percent had moderate complications. No patients had severe complications.

The most common complications were bleeding (89.3 percent of cases), pain (6.9 percent), lightheadedness (0.9 percent) and bruising (0.9 percent).

“SVAB is safe and minimally invasive, and the risks of complication associated with SVAB performed to obtain a potentially lifesaving diagnosis are minimal,” wrote Leng Leng Young Lin, MD, department of radiology at NYU Langone Health in New York, and colleagues.

These findings should help ease any patient fears associated with SVABs, the authors added.

“In the future, we plan to incorporate our results into educational brochures to better define risks and provide more concrete information to patients when obtaining informed consent,” Lin and colleagues wrote. “Our results show that the risks associated with a breast biopsy may be overstated by the USPSTF, and public education is needed on this topic.”