Many people are unaware that biopsies remain an important diagnostic tool for cancer.
While a biopsy means creating a sample from the tumor and examining it under a microscope to detect cancerous cells, biopsy remains one of the best tools for diagnosing cancer. The biopsy may be more sensitive than other screening methods since it can detect early changes in tissue, which may not be detected with methods like MRI or CT scan. Additionally, such scans only provide pictures of soft tissue and cannot detect whether or not there is any solid tumor present.
Biopsies are more likely to detect cancer at early stages. Studies have shown that biopsies of small breast masses were more likely to detect cancer than mammography alone. Multiple types of biopsies exist but the most common procedure is fine needle aspiration, which involves inserting a needle into the tumor and removing cells for examination under a microscope.
When is a Biopsy Ordered?
A biopsy is usually ordered when a lump or mass is found in the breast, which is abnormal to the touch. This abnormal feeling can be either pain or a change in the size, shape, and texture of the breast tissue.
A biopsy may also be needed when cancerous cells are found in a sample of breast fluid taken by placing a needle into the tumor. The tube used to collect this fluid is connected to a needle. This procedure is usually painless and involves only minor discomfort after the needle is removed.
Many times, there is no need to go to the doctor's office. Mammography, ultrasound, and MRI scans may detect certain abnormalities and your doctor may be able to diagnose cancer without actually performing a biopsy. Tumor biopsies should always be performed by a qualified pathologist. They should be performed at least once every two years for women older than 25 years of age and every three years for women under 25.
How is a Biopsy Performed?
To properly perform a biopsy, the doctor will have to have access to the tumor. In this way, they can feel for lumps, tumors, or other signs of change. The outer surface of the body will be shaved and numbed with a local numbing so that the doctor does not feel any pain during the procedure.
The most common biopsy method is fine needle aspiration. This involves inserting a small needle into a lump and withdrawing cells from it under a microscope. If cancer is present in the tumor, then a microscopic examination of these cells may show it and allow you to be aware that you have cancer before it spreads further.
Other types of biopsies are more commonly used in clinical settings. These include excisional biopsy, which is used to remove tissue from the breast and evaluate it under a microscope; core needle biopsy, which involves inserting a needle through the tumor and removing a small piece of it to be examined under a microscope; and ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy, which has similar results as core needle biopsy if ultrasound guidance can be used.
Risks and Expected Results
While a biopsy is not that invasive, it does result in some minor pain. Most women checking for breast cancer are given a local to numb the area so they will not feel any pain during the procedure. After a biopsy, you may experience swelling and mild discomfort on the part of the breast where it was performed.
If cancer is found in a tumor, then symptoms can include ulceration or soreness at the biopsy site and a lump or mass in the breast that can be felt by your doctor. Sometimes, cancer cells can go undetected if there are not enough cells available to be detected but this is more common with very small tumors or tumors that do not have cancerous cells inside them.
You may experience changes in the size, shape, and texture of your breast or other region checked after a biopsy. You may also feel some pain in the area where the biopsy was performed, especially if the tumor has attached itself to surrounding tissue. If you have pain while you are showering or bathing, you should be sure to let your doctor know as it could be a sign of cancer that is already spreading.