cases, your doctor may decide that they need a sample of your tissue or your
cells to help diagnose an illness or identify a cancer. This removal of tissue
or cells for analysis is called a biopsy.
biopsy may sound scary, it’s important to remember that most are entirely
pain-free and low-risk procedures. Depending on your situation, a piece of
skin, tissue, organ, or suspected tumor will be surgically removed and sent to
a lab for testing.
Why a Biopsy Is Done
If you have
been experiencing symptoms normally associated with cancer, and your doctor has
located an area of concern, they may order a biopsy to help determine if that
area is cancerous.
A biopsy is
the only sure way to diagnosis most cancers. Imaging tests like CT scans and
X-rays can help identify areas of concerns, but they can’t differentiate
between cancerous and noncancerous cells.
typically associated with cancer, but just because your doctor orders a biopsy,
it doesn’t mean that you have cancer. Doctors use biopsies to test whether
abnormalities in your body are caused by cancer or by other conditions.
a woman might have a lump in her breast. An imaging test would confirm the
lump, but a biopsy is the only way to determine whether it’s breast cancer or
another noncancerous condition, such as polycystic fibrosis.
Types of Biopsies
several different kinds of biopsies. Your doctor will choose the type to use
based on your condition and the area of your body that needs closer review.
type, you’ll be given local anesthesia to numb the area where the incision is
Bone Marrow Biopsy
of your larger bones, like the hip or the femur in your leg, blood cells are
produced in a spongy material called marrow.
If your doctor
suspects that there are problems with your blood, you may undergo a bone marrow
biopsy. This test can single out both cancerous and noncancerous conditions like
leukemia, anemia, infection, or lymphoma. The test is also used to check if
cancer cells from another part of the body have spread to your bones.
is most easily accessed using a long needle inserted into your hipbone. This
may be done in a hospital or doctor’s office. The insides of your bones cannot
be numbed, so some people feel a dull pain during this procedure. Others,
however, only feel an initial sharp pain as the local anesthetic is injected.
biopsies are used to reach tissue inside the body in order to gather samples
from places like the bladder, colon, or lung.
procedure, your doctor uses a flexible thin tube called an endoscope. The
endoscope has a tiny camera and a light at the end. A video monitor allows them
to view the images. Small surgical tools are also inserted into the endoscope.
Using the video, the doctor can guide these to collect a sample.
endoscope can be inserted through a small incision in your body, or through any
opening in the body, including the mouth, nose, rectum, or urethra. Endoscopies
normally take anywhere from five to 20 minutes.
procedure can be done in a hospital or in a doctor’s office. Afterward, you
might feel mildly uncomfortable, or have bloating, gas, or a sore throat. These
will all pass in time, but if you are concerned, you should contact your
biopsies are used to collect skin samples, or for any tissue that is easily
accessible under the skin. The different types of needle biopsies include the following.
- Core needle biopsies use medium-sized needle to
extract a column of tissue, in the same way that core samples are taken from
- Fine needle biopsies use a thin needle that is attached to a
syringe, allowing fluids and cells to be drawn out.
- Image-guided biopsies are guided with imaging procedures — such
as X-ray or CT scans — so your doctor can access specific areas, such as the
lung, liver, or other organs.
- Vacuum-assisted biopsies use suction from a vacuum
to collect cells.
The Risks of a Biopsy
procedure that involves breaking the skin carries the risk of infection or
bleeding. However, as the incision is small, especially in needle biopsies, the
risk is much lower.
How to Prepare for a Biopsy
require no preparation on the part of the patient. If you have a problem with
needles, you should talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about ways to
ease your anxiety.
before a medical procedure, tell your doctor what medications and supplements
you take. You may need to stop taking certain drugs before a biopsy, such as
aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Following up After a Biopsy
tissue sample is taken, your doctors will need to analyze it. In some cases,
this analysis can be done at the time of procedure. More often, however, the
sample will need to be sent to a laboratory for testing. The results can take
anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
results arrive, your doctor may call you to share the results, or ask you to
come in for a follow-up appointment to discuss the next steps.
results showed signs of cancer, your doctor should be able to tell the type and
the cancer’s level of aggression from your biopsy. They will use those results
to prepare a treatment course for you.
results are negative, it’s not cancer. Your doctor will probably still want to
follow up. Your biopsy might have shown a different problem that needs
treatment. If not, your doctor will need to do other tests to identify the
causes of the problems that brought you to the office in the first place.