What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is a medical procedure used to make a cancer diagnosis. During a biopsy, a sample of abnormal cells or piece of tissue is taken from an area of concern and analyzed in a lab.

A biopsy is the most effective way of making a definitive cancer diagnosis.

Why do you need a biopsy?

Your doctor may perform a biopsy if he or she finds something abnormal in a physical or imaging test that needs to be examined further. For example, if your doctor finds a lump on your breast during a mammogram, he or she may order a biopsy.

Types of biopsies

The type of biopsy you need depends on where your suspicious mass of cells is located.

Types of biopsies include:

Bone marrow biopsy

Leukemia or lymphoma can be diagnosed with a bone marrow biopsy. During a bone marrow biopsy, your doctor will insert a needle into your pelvis bone to collect bone marrow.

Image-guided biopsy

Ultrasound guided biopsy

During an ultrasound guided biopsy, your doctor will use an ultrasound machine to guide the needle to the affected area.

Needle biopsy

Needle biopsies are the most common type of biopsy During a needle biopsy, the area of concern is accessed via a needle.

Kidney biopsy

Your doctor will inject a needle into the kidney to collect a sample of kidney tissue.

Liver biopsy

During a liver biopsy, your doctor will inject a needle into the liver to capture liver tissue.

Bone biopsy

During a bone biopsy, your doctor may use a CT scan to look for cancer in the bones.

Prostate biopsy

During a prostate biopsy, a probe is inserted into the anus to reach the prostate gland. When in place, multiple needle biopsies are taken at once.

Skin biopsy

During a skin biopsy, a sample of skin tissue is removed via a circular blade.

Surgical biopsy

A surgical biopsy may be necessary to get hard-to-reach cells or tissue. During a surgical biopsy, a lump or piece of tissue is removed.

What to expect during a biopsy?

Your doctor will discuss what to expect during your biopsy. Each type of biopsy is different. There are some biopsies that are minimally invasive, while others are much more involved. For example, skin biopsies can be done during a clinic visit right after the abnormal tissue/cells were identified.

More invasive biopsies may be done in a surgery center under general or local anesthesia. You may experience pain at the incision site for a few days after surgery. If the pain is very intense, he may recommend OTC or prescription pain medication.

Biopsy results

Your tissue sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis under a microscope. If the cells are identified as malignant (cancerous), your doctor will be able to tell the type of cancer it is as well as how aggressive your cancer is. Cancer is typically graded on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being low- grade and 4 being the most aggressive).

Although some biopsy results are available immediately, most biopsy results take between 2 and 10 days to get back.

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