Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital Alert: COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS) information for patients and visitors LEARN MORE >>

What to Expect During a Biopsy

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on June 21st, 2021 in News, Myths & Tips

Undergoing a biopsy can be intimidating, as the majority of people associate this medical procedure with the prospect of cancer. However, this idea should not make you postpone having a biopsy, as it can prove essential for your health. Your doctor and their medical team will be there to make you feel as comfortable as possible during the entire procedure, which should ease your anxiety.

While it is true that, in the majority of cases, doctors order biopsies when they suspect the presence of cancer, you should view this as a positive thing, as, following this procedure, you will know for sure whether you are healthy or whether you have a problem.

A biopsy is a medical procedure during which a sample of cells or a piece of tissue is removed from your body and subsequently sent to a laboratory to be examined by a pathologist. Even though diagnostic tests such as CT scans and MRI scans allow your doctor to see the particularities of the organ in question, they cannot tell whether there are malignant cells in your body or not. For this reason, a biopsy may be necessary to know for sure if you have cancer or a less serious and more common health problem.

How Many Types of Biopsies Are There and What Do They Entail?

Depending on what part of your body needs to be examined, there are numerous types of biopsies. Consequently, your doctor may order one of the following types of biopsies for you:

  • Bone marrow biopsy: If there are abnormalities in your blood or if your doctor suspects that cancer began in or traveled to your bone marrow, they will order this biopsy. The bone marrow is the spongy substance found inside some of the large bones in your body that produces blood cells. After examining a sample of your bone marrow, the pathologist will determine what the cause of your blood problem is. Before performing a bone marrow biopsy, your doctor will give you local anesthesia so that you will not feel any pain during the procedure. Then, they will draw a sample of bone marrow out of the back of your hipbone by using a long needle. 
  • Endoscopic biopsy: Before this procedure, you may receive a sedative or anesthetic so that you will not experience discomfort. During endoscopy, a thin and flexible tube with a light at the end, medically known as an endoscope, is inserted through your mouth, rectum, urinary tract, or a tiny incision in your skin, depending on the area of interest. Accordingly, your doctor may perform a cystoscopy to collect tissue from your bladder, bronchoscopy to collect tissue from your lung, or colonoscopy to collect tissue from your colon.
  • Needle biopsy: A needle biopsy is usually performed to collect samples of cells from the tumors that can be felt through your skin, such as a breast lump or a swollen lymph node. Before the procedure, you will be given local anesthesia to minimize the pain. There are multiple types of needle biopsy, namely fine-needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, vacuum-assisted biopsy, and image-guided biopsy. The latter allows your doctor to gain access to suspicious areas that cannot be felt through the skin, such as abnormal growths on your liver, prostate, or lung. 
  • Skin biopsy: If your doctor suspects skin cancer such as melanoma, they will order a skin biopsy. Before the procedure, you will receive a local anesthetic to numb the area from which the tissue sample will be collected. There are also multiple types of skin biopsies, depending on the type of cancer your doctor suspects, namely shave biopsy, punch biopsy, incisional biopsy, and excisional biopsy. 
  • Surgical biopsy: As perhaps the most complex type of biopsy, a surgical biopsy entails a surgeon making a small or large incision in your skin to gain access to the suspicious area of your body. Surgical biopsies can be either incisional or excisional. The former removes a part of the abnormal growth of cells, whereas the latter removes the entire area. Depending on how complex the procedure will be, you will receive general or local anesthesia.

The information your doctor will obtain from the pathologist who will examine the sample of cells or the piece of tissue will be crucial for the treatment you will receive in the unfortunate case that you have cancer. Immediately following the biopsy, the sample of cells or the piece of tissue will be sent to a laboratory, where it may be chemically treated or frozen and sliced into very thin sections. Subsequently, these sections will be placed on glass slides and stained to obtain contrast, which will be followed by examination under the microscope.

Eventually, the pathologist will provide your doctor with a complete report containing all the information they gathered with regard to the sample of cells or the piece of tissue collected from your body, such as the aggressiveness of your cancer and the grade of your cancer. This information will greatly help your doctor decide on the most effective treatment for you, which may prove to be life-saving. Therefore, if your doctor suggested you undergo a biopsy, try to abandon your fears and have the procedure performed as soon as possible, as you may indeed have a malignant disease that requires immediate treatment.