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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Biopsy Q&As

I have been told I have to have a biopsy for a suspected cancer. I am worried that this will make the cancer spread. Should I have the biopsy

A biopsy means taking a small sample of tissue from the body for examination under the microscope.

This may involve a relatively simple procedure where a needle is used to withdraw the sample (this is usually done under a local anaesthetic, often as an out-patient). Or it may need a small operation (done under a general anaesthetic, often as a day-patient).

For the great majority of cancers a biopsy is essential to confirm the diagnosis. The tests done on the tissue from the biopsy also give doctors important information about the cancer and how it should be treated.

Although a biopsy does always involve some disturbance of the suspected cancer there is no evidence that the test increases the risk of spread of the cancer.

So you should definitely go ahead with the test.

My doctors think I could have a cancer. They want to do a biopsy but I am worried that this might cause the cancer to spread. What do you think?

A biopsy is a test where a small piece of tissue is removed for examination under the microscope. Depending on where the suspicious tissue is in the body this might be done by simply putting a needle in the tissue or by a small operation under either a local or general anaesthetic.

Sometimes, if the suspect area is very small, the biopsy will remove it completely but usually just a sample of the tissue is taken.

The results of the biopsy can tell doctors whether or not the tissue is cancerous. If a cancer is present then the biopsy can often give valuable extra information about the precise type of cancer and how it is likely to behave and how best it might be treated.

Having a biopsy is usually the only way to make sure whether or not abnormal tissue is cancerous and so it is a very important test.

People are often concerned that a biopsy may cause cancer to spread but there is no convincing evidence that having a biopsy of a cancer causes the growth to spread, or worsens the outlook in any way. Given this lack of risk and the importance of the information the biopsy can give it is something you should definitely go ahead with.

Two other points to mention are that biopsies are used to diagnose a number of illnesses, so the suggestion that someone should have a biopsy does not necessarily mean cancer is suspected. Secondly, when a biopsy is taken the tissue often has to be processed for a day or two before it can be examined under the microscope and so it may be about a week before the results of the test are through.

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