What is a biopsy?

Biopsy is a general term which simply means "the removal of tissue for microscopic examination.”

The word biopsy originates from Greek words that mean "to view life." This term describes what a Pathologist, a specialist in identifying diseases, does with tissue obtained from a biopsy.

Biopsy is a very accurate method for analysing unusual growths or other suspicious tissue. Because it provides such accurate diagnostic information, biopsy is an important diagnostic tool in the fight against cancer.

What are the types of biopsies?

  • Liver Biopsy
  • Endometrial Biopsy
  • Prostate Biopsy
  • Skin Biopsy
  • Bone marrow Biopsy
  • Breast Biopsy
  • Small intestine Biopsy

Why is biopsy done?

A biopsy is performed to obtain pieces of tissue that are sent to the laboratory for examination of signs of cancer or other diseases. The biopsy sample is stained and examined under a microscope in the lab. This close examination allows the laboratory technician to determine if the sample is normal, part of a non-cancerous or benign tumour, or part of a cancerous or malignant tumour.

The type of cancer may also be identified at this time and can assist in evaluating the risk that the cancer has spread or metastasized to other areas of the body. A biopsy may also be used to identify causes of inflammation and infection.

How is it done?

The preparation for a biopsy will differ based on the type of biopsy procedure being performed. A skin or muscle biopsy usually won’t require any modification of diet. For an open biopsy requiring general anesthesia, you will be instructed to fast several hours before the procedure.

Remind your doctor beforehand about any allergies, history of surgical procedures, and current medications. For women, inform the doctor if there is a possibility that you could be pregnant.

What are the risks?

Needle biopsy is minimally invasive and is typically a very safe procedure. The benefits of percutaneous biopsy often far outweigh the risks. However, as with all invasive procedures, certain risks do exist.

Depending upon the site being biopsied and the type of biopsy being performed, risks can include:

  • Haemorrhage: bleeding
  • Infection of the biopsy area
  • Pooling of blood trapped inside the biopsy area

Surgical biopsy has some additional risks versus needle biopsy:

  • Surgical biopsies require sutures (stitches) and can leave a disfiguring scar, depending on the size of the excision.
  • Surgical biopsy has a small risk of bleeding, infection, or wound healing problems.
  • Surgical biopsy usually requires one day of recuperation at home.