Waiting Can Be the Hardest Part of a Biopsy
The need for a biopsy can often lead patients to worry they might have cancer. While the procedure may sound frightening, Kevin Hubbard, DO, cautions his patients to remain calm while awaiting test results.
“People often assume getting a biopsy is cancer-related, but the area of concern could be a sign of another condition. Your doctor needs to perform the test in order to determine an accurate diagnosis,” says Dr. Hubbard, an osteopathic internist and oncologist.
DOs, or osteopathic physicians, focus on prevention by gaining a deeper understanding of your lifestyle and environment as they partner to help you get healthy and stay well.
What is a Biopsy?
A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue or cell sample for testing. A pathologist analyzes the sample to look for abnormalities and to determine an accurate diagnosis.
“For example, if a mammogram indicates an unusual spot, a biopsy can help doctors determine if the area contains cancerous or noncancerous cells,” Dr. Hubbard explains.
Types of Biopsy Procedures
There are several different types of biopsies. Some of the most common procedures include:
Skin – A skin biopsy entails numbing the skin and removing cells from the surface of your body. This may involve a shave biopsy, where your doctor scrapes the surface of the skin; a punch biopsy, where a deeper layer of skin is removed; an incisional biopsy, where a scalpel is used to remove a small section of skin; or an excisional biopsy, where an entire area of abnormal skin is removed.
Surgical – Performed in an operating room, this type of biopsy can be used to examine lymph nodes or remove a breast lump for possible cancer diagnosis. Typically, the procedure takes 20-45 minutes and is performed under local or general anesthesia. “A biopsy of an organ is a more formal surgical procedure that requires several weeks of recovery,” Dr. Hubbard explains.
Bone marrow – Used to diagnose blood abnormalities, a bone marrow biopsy entails drawing a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone or another bone. The test is performed under local anesthesia.
Waiting for Results
Once the sample is collected, it is sent to the lab for analysis to determine if the cells are cancerous. Generally, it takes about two working days to receive results, but it sometimes takes longer if additional testing is needed.
“Not knowing is the hardest part. But you want pathologists to really take their time and examine the sample clinically so your doctor has the information needed to determine the prognosis and work with you to develop a treatment plan,” Dr. Hubbard says.
While waiting for the results, Dr. Hubbard suggests staying busy and spending time with your family. “Biopsy results are discussed in person so try to schedule a follow up appointment as quickly as possible. Ask your physician what the results mean and what the next steps will be,” Dr. Hubbard adds.