A biopsy is a medical procedure in which a small sample of tissue is taken from the body for laboratory testing. The sample is examined under a microscope to determine the presence or absence of disease, such as cancer. The biopsy procedure involves carefully removing a small tissue sample from the suspicious area for further laboratory analysis to diagnose any potential abnormality.
A biopsy can help diagnose a wide range of conditions, including cancers, infections, and autoimmune disorders. The type of biopsy performed, and the tissue sample taken depend on the location and nature of the suspicious area, as well as the suspected underlying condition.
Biopsies can be performed in several ways, including using a needle to remove a sample of tissue, using a cutting tool to remove a piece of tissue, or using an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera and tools) to remove a sample.
The results of a biopsy provide valuable information that helps the doctor determine the best course of treatment.
Types of biopsies
There are several types of biopsies, including:
- Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: A thin needle is used to remove a small sample of tissue, often from a solid mass such as a lump in the breast or a thyroid nodule.
- Core biopsy: A larger needle is used to remove a cylindrical sample of tissue, often from a solid mass such as a lump in the breast.
- Excisional biopsy: A scalpel or similar tool is used to remove an entire mass or growth, including surrounding tissue.
- Incisional biopsy: Only a portion of a mass or growth is removed, rather than the entire structure.
- Endoscopic biopsy: An endoscope is used to visualize the inside of a hollow organ, such as the stomach or colon, and remove a sample of tissue for testing.
- Transcutaneous biopsy: A sample of tissue is taken through the skin, often using a needle.
- Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of bone marrow is taken, usually from the hip bone, to diagnose conditions such as leukaemia or lymphoma.
These are some of the most common types of biopsies. The type of biopsy performed will depend on the location and nature of the suspicious area and the suspected underlying condition.
Risks associated with biopsies
Like any medical procedure, biopsies carry some risks. Some common risks associated with biopsy include:
- Pain or discomfort: The procedure may cause some pain or discomfort, although this is usually minimal. The use of local anaesthesia can help reduce pain and discomfort during the procedure.
- Bleeding: There is a small risk of bleeding after the procedure, although this is usually minimal and stops on its own. In rare cases, a more significant bleed may occur, requiring further treatment.
- Infection: There is a small risk of infection at the biopsy site, although this is rare. The use of sterile techniques during the procedure and careful wound care after the procedure can help reduce the risk of infection.
- Tissue damage: In some cases, the biopsy procedure may cause damage to surrounding tissue, such as organs or blood vessels.
- Complications related to anaesthesia: If general anaesthesia is used during the procedure, there is a risk of complications related to the use of anaesthesia, such as difficulty breathing, allergic reactions, or heart problems.
- False negative results: In some cases, a biopsy may not remove enough tissue for an accurate diagnosis, leading to false negative results. Repeat biopsy may be necessary to obtain a more accurate diagnosis.
It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of biopsy with your doctor, as well as any concerns you may have about the procedure. This can help you make an informed decision about whether a biopsy is the right choice for you.
How to prepare for a biopsy
Preparation for a biopsy varies depending on the type of biopsy being performed, but there are some general steps you can take to prepare:
- Discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor: Some medications, such as blood thinners, may need to be stopped before the procedure.
- Arrange for transportation: If you are having a biopsy that requires anaesthesia or if you are having a biopsy of the breast, you may need to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
- Inform your doctor of any allergies or medical conditions: Be sure to let your doctor know of any allergies you have or any medical conditions you have, such as diabetes, bleeding disorders, or heart problems.
- Fast before the procedure: If you are having a biopsy that requires anaesthesia, you may be asked to fast for several hours before the procedure.
- Wear comfortable clothing: Choose clothing that is comfortable and allows easy access to the area being biopsied.
- Plan for recovery: If you are having a biopsy of the breast, you may experience some discomfort or swelling after the procedure. Plan to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day.
It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, as well as any instructions given by the medical staff performing the biopsy. This can help ensure that the biopsy is performed as safely and accurately as possible.
What to expect after a biopsy
What you can expect after a biopsy depends on the type of biopsy performed and your individual health status, but here are some common experiences:
- Pain or discomfort: You may experience some pain or discomfort at the biopsy site, but this is usually minimal and can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications.
- Bleeding: You may notice some bleeding or spotting at the biopsy site, but this is usually minimal and stops on its own. If you experience more significant bleeding, be sure to contact your doctor.
- Bruising: You may experience some bruising at the biopsy site, but this should go away within a few days.
- Swelling: You may experience some swelling at the biopsy site, especially if the biopsy was performed on the breast. This should go away within a few days.
- Wound care: You will need to take care of the biopsy site to reduce the risk of infection. Your doctor will give you specific instructions for wound care, which may include cleaning the site with soap and water and keeping it covered with a bandage.
- Results: The results of the biopsy will usually be available within a few days to a week, although the exact time may vary depending on the type of biopsy and the lab processing the tissue samples.
- Follow-up care: If the biopsy shows that you have cancer, you may need further tests and treatments. Your doctor will provide you with information about the next steps you need to take.
It is important to keep your follow-up appointment with your doctor, even if you are feeling well, so that they can monitor your progress and address any questions or concerns you may have.