Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases that has been affecting millions of lives globally. Though intense research and advanced treatments have helped improve cancer survival rates, timely and accurate diagnosis still remains one of the most important factors for a positive outcome. Cancer biopsy is a medical procedure that plays a crucial role in understanding if the abnormal cells found in a person’s body are cancerous or not. In this article, we will discuss various aspects of cancer biopsy to understand its significance in diagnosing and treating cancer.
What is a Cancer Biopsy?
A cancer biopsy is a medical procedure where doctors or surgeons remove a small sample of abnormal cells or tissues from a patient’s body to examine them closely under a microscope. The sample is obtained using minimally invasive techniques like fine needle aspiration or an endoscope and sent to pathology laboratories for a detailed analysis. Trained pathologists examine the biopsy sample under a microscope by staining it with dyes. They look for cellular and structural abnormalities that are characteristic of cancer. Based on these observations, they can determine if the cells are benign or malignant i.e. cancerous.
Types of Cancer Biopsies
There are different types of Cancer Biopsy that are used depending on the location and other factors of the suspicious mass. Some common biopsy methods are:
– Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNA): In this technique, a very thin needle is used to extract fluid and cell samples from lumps or masses beneath the skin. It is minimally invasive and used for obtaining samples from areas like the thyroid, breast, and lymph nodes.
– Core Needle Biopsy: Also known as core biopsy, in this method a slightly bigger hollow needle is used to extract cylindrical tissue cores for examination. It is more invasive than FNA but provides adequate tissue samples.
– Incisional or Excisional Biopsy: In this method, the entire lump or part of the suspicious area is surgically removed and examined. It enables evaluation of the surrounding tissues and architecture.
– Endoscopic Biopsy: In this technique, long thin tubes with a camera and biopsy forceps are inserted internally through mouth or other natural openings. It allows safe extraction of tissue samples from internal organs like intestines, lungs etc. without major surgery.
Importance of Cancer Biopsy
A cancer biopsy provides crucial information that helps doctors confirm cancer diagnosis and determine the next steps for effective treatment. Some key benefits of performing a biopsy include:
– Accurate Diagnosis: Detailed examination of biopsy samples under a microscope by pathologists enables accurate identification of cancer type. This is essential for choosing the right treatment approach.
– Cancer Stage Determination: Features like tumor size, depth of invasion and lymph node involvement observed in biopsy help determine the cancer stage. Staging provides important prognosis information.
– Identification of Biomarkers: Biopsy helps identify molecular biomarkers in cancer cells which predict response to targeted therapies. For example, HER2 status in breast cancer.
– Ruling out Other Conditions: A negative biopsy reliably rules out cancer, ensuring patients do not undergo unnecessary treatments if the mass is benign.
– Monitoring Treatment Response: Biopsies may be repeated during or after primary treatment to check if all cancer cells have been eliminated.
– Guiding Precision Treatment: Biopsy can detect genetic mutations guiding use of customized drugs through a molecular profiling based approach.
Risks and Limitations of Biopsy
While biopsy is considered a low risk procedure, there are still some potential complications and limitations:
– Bleeding and Bruising: Minor bleeding or bruising at biopsy site is common but severe bleeding is rare.
– Infection: Risk of infection is less than 1% with proper sterilization but systemic infection is possible in rare cases.
– Inaccurate Sample: There is a small chance the needle misses the tumor entirely or obtains non-representative normal cells, giving false negative results.
– Unrepresentative Sample: In large heterogeneous tumors, the biopsy sample may not represent the full tumor biology.
– Discomfort and Pain: Biopsies using larger needles can cause discomfort, though usually tolerable with local anesthesia.
– Repeated Procedures: Multiple biopsy attempts may be needed in some cases to obtain adequate tissue for diagnosis, risking more complications.
– Missing Rare Cancers: Some extremely rare cancers may evade detection even with biopsy due to limitations of current diagnostic methods.
Overall however, risks of biopsy are very low and far outweighed by the benefits of obtaining a tissue based cancer diagnosis. With increasing expertise and advanced biopsy techniques, the accuracy is also continuously improving.
A cancer biopsy plays a pivotal role in the diagnosis and management of cancer patients. By providing actual cellular level evidence of malignancy, it enables pathologists and oncologists to accurately identify the cancer type, stage of disease, and guide personalized treatment decision making. Though no medical procedure is totally risk-free, modern biopsy techniques have made it a very safe diagnostic option. With continued advancements, biopsy will likely become even more accurate, minimally invasive and crucial to improving cancer survival worldwide.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it