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From January 1980 through June 1986,199 percutaneous needle localizations for clinically occult breast lesions were performed at North Carolina Memorial Hospital. A retrospective analysis of the medical records, mammograms, operative notes, and pathology reports was undertaken to evaluate the success of this procedure. In our series, biopsy was prompted by abnormal calcifications in 27.1% of lesions, occult masses in 37.2%, and by a combination of occult masses and microcalcification in 35.7%. Overall, we had a yield of positive biopsies for cancer of 16.3%, with the yield improving from 12.3% in the earlier years of our study, to 18.7% in the latter years. Of the cancer cases detected, 89.7% were stage I. The localization procedure was successful in 95.9% of the cases. Analysis of our eight failures, along with a review of the literature, shows the major reasons for failure to be incomplete removal of areas with multiple calcifications, dislodgement of the needle, and problems resulting from lack of communication between the radiologist and surgeon. We conclude that the failure rate is low, the yield good, and needle localization a worthwhile procedure for localizing nonpalpable occult lesions.