A biopsy is mandatory to diagnose the tumor’s exact cancer type, grade, and aggressiveness. A biopsy helps understand the kind of treatment cancer will respond to better. Cancer is a disease where myth can bring an end to life. Therefore, the need of the hour is to emphasize on debunking innumerable myths and misconceptions associated with cancer and biopsy.
A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure involving collecting a sample of cells or tissue from the affected body and examining them under the microscope to check for the presence of cancer. The process can also determine the treatment response.
It is usually recommended when something suspicious is noticed during a physical examination or other tests or if the patient’s symptoms indicate a likelihood of cancerous growth. Besides cancer studies, biopsies can also help determine several other conditions, such as infection, inflammatory disease, or autoimmune disorder.
There are many types of biopsies based on their purpose and the method of doing it. The common ones include incisional and excisional, needle biopsy, scalpel biopsy, and liquid biopsy.
Myths and Facts About Biopsies
With the advances in medical technology, the number of biopsies are increasing. Although it is the gold standard for diagnosing more than 90% of cases, patients may still be skeptical about undergoing a biopsy due to the many myths associated with the procedure.
Myth: Biopsy is a dangerous operation
Fact: Generally, all the surgeries and medications carry some risk; the only difference is how much damage this procedure would cause. It is always good to weigh the risks against the benefits, and for biopsies in most patients, the benefits outweigh the risks involved.
A biopsy is not a dangerous operation, but like all surgeries, it does have risks, although very minor. Biopsies rarely cause bleeding, infections, and scarring. However, these risks are based on the location of tissue collection, biopsy type and other comorbid conditions the patient suffers from.
Myth: Biopsy causes cancer to spread
Fact: For many years, patients and physicians believed cancer cells could spread to other body parts following a biopsy. However, there is not enough appropriate scientific evidence to support this notion. While there are a few case reports which suggest that this might occur in rare cases. You can avoid this by taking all the necessary steps to prevent the spread of cancer cells during the sample collection.
A study concluded that patients who had undergone a biopsy had better outcomes and longer survival rates when compared to the patients who refused to have a biopsy.
Myth: Biopsy can increase the stage of cancer
Fact: There is no conclusive evidence that a needle biopsy will increase the cancer stage. Theoretically, during biopsy needle withdrawal, the tumor cells may migrate into the surrounding skin and soft tissue through the biopsy needle. However, this occurrence is rare and has little impact on the patient’s treatment outcome.
A biopsy may benefit the patient by making accurate staging and relevant treatment planning possible. Patients who anxiously inquire about the risks and complications of this procedure can be sure that, even if this occurs, the clinical effect is negligible, and the rate of disease recurrence is infrequent. The benefits far outweigh the risks.
Myth: Biopsy is not necessary for cancer treatment
Fact: Biopsy confirmation is necessary before contemplating therapy in more than 90% of cancers.
A postoperative surgical biopsy can offer clues about the stage and extent of cancer, which plays a crucial role in the cancer treatment plan and response to treatment. Especially in metastatic cases, biopsy samples go through molecular studies to see the part of advanced therapies like targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Targeted therapy is an effective treatment option for cancers. This therapy uses drugs or other substances to target specific genes and proteins involved in cancer growth and development. Here, a biopsy plays a crucial role in identifying the specific molecules to target.
Additionally, some types of biopsies, such as liquid biopsy, can be used to assess a tumor’s response to the treatment, provide early information about cancer recurrence, and determine the reasons for treatment resistance.
Myth: Biopsy always needs hospitalization
Fact: Most biopsies are minor procedures and require local anesthesia, hence can be performed as an outpatient procedure.
However, some biopsies that involve collecting a tissue sample from the internal organs, such as the liver or kidney, may need to be performed under general anesthesia. In such cases, the patient might require an overnight stay in the hospital to recover from the effects of anesthesia.
Verbal, written or casual exchange of information is typical in any healthcare setting; unfortunately, false notes are heard too soon and are spread easily. The only way to overcome these myths is to encourage the patients to discuss their concerns with the healthcare team, who can provide them with the correct and unbiased information based on strong scientific evidence.
Healthcare professionals must also promote patient education and counseling services in their healthcare set-ups.
A biopsy is an integral part of treatment, making a cancer diagnosis possible. If your doctor finds cancer, the biopsy results can help them tailor the right treatment plan for you. If you’re concerned about a biopsy, ask your doctor why they recommend it and what the risks of having. Ask your doctor how to prepare for the biopsy, what you can expect during the procedure. And also ask how to take care of yourself afterwards. A biopsy is integral for people with cancer, and your doctor can help answer any queries you may have.