Key Points about a Biopsy
- Your cancer care specialist may recommend you undergo a biopsy as part of the diagnostic process.
- In most cases, a biopsy is the only test that can confirm if a suspicious are is cancer.
- With the results of a biopsy, your specialist can determine the most appropriate treatment options for your condition and situation.
OverviewCancer care specialists will use a biopsy procedure to help diagnose many types of cancer. During this procedure, a specialist removes a small sample of bone, bone marrow, cells or tissue from your body. A doctor, called a pathologist will look at the cells or tissue under a microscope to determine if certain markers, proteins or other signs of cancer are present.
Preparing for a biopsy
Your specialist will give you specific preparation instructions for the type of biopsy you’re having.
You may need to fast – avoid eating or drinking – for a period of time before your biopsy. If you take blood thinners, you may need to stop taking them for a couple of days before your procedure. You should wear comfortable, loose clothing and leave all jewelry and valuables at home.
You should tell your provider:
- All medicines you’re currently taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements
- If there’s a possibility you’re pregnant
- If you have any allergies, especially to anesthesia
Expectations during a biopsy
In most cases, biopsies are performed on an outpatient basis, meaning that you’ll return home that same day. There are different types of biopsies including a needle biopsy which removes tissue with a needle and other types of biopsies that require surgery.
Depending on the type of biopsy you undergo, and the area of the body affected, you may be under local anesthesia for the procedure. This means that only the area of the biopsy will be numbed. You may also receive some relaxation medication through an intravenous (IV) line, but you likely won’t be fully asleep for the biopsy.
Your specialist may use specialized equipment with imaging guidance to aid in obtaining the sample for the biopsy. Most biopsies take an hour or less to complete.
Recovery from a biopsy
After a biopsy, you will be taken to an observation area and nursing staff will closely monitor you for a few hours. You may feel some soreness at the site of the biopsy for a couple of days, and you should rest for a few days when you return home. You can usually remove the bandage on the biopsy site the day after the procedure, and then bathe or shower normally.
Your specialist’s office will call you with the results of the biopsy within a week or so. You may need to schedule a follow-up visit to further discuss the results and the next steps of your care plan.
Common conditions requiring a biopsy
A biopsy can often help determine if a tumor or mass is benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Your cancer care specialist may recommend you undergo a biopsy to help diagnose the following, and/or determine the underlying cause:
- Abdominal mass
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Bone cancer
- Bone infection
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Diseases of the connective tissues and blood vessels
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Hepatitis C
- Inflammatory nerve conditions
- Kidney failure
- Leukemia (blood cancer)
- Liver infection
- Liver cancer
- Lump in the breast
- Lung cancer
- Lung nodule
- Male infertility
- Mole that has changed size, shape or color
- Renal (kidney) cancer
- Thyroid gland nodule
- Uterine cancer
When should I seek treatment?
If you think you may need to undergo a biopsy, start by voicing your concerns to your specialist. Communication with your doctor is the best way to make sure you get the information you need.
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