Biopsy Procedures Used to Diagnose Cancer

A biopsy is a procedure to remove a piece of tissue or a sample of cells from your body so that it can be analyzed in a laboratory. If you're experiencing certain signs and symptoms or if your doctor has identified an area of concern, you may undergo a biopsy to determine whether you have cancer or some other condition.

While imaging tests, such as X-rays, are helpful in detecting masses or areas of abnormality, they alone can't differentiate cancerous cells from noncancerous cells. For the majority of cancers, the only way to make a definitive diagnosis is to perform a biopsy to collect cells for closer examination. You can also click here to know more about tissue biopsy.

Biopsy analysis and results

After your doctor obtains a tissue sample, it's sent to a laboratory for analysis. The sample may be chemically treated or frozen and sliced into very thin sections. The sections are placed on glass slides, stained to enhance contrast, and studied under a microscope.

The results help your doctor determine whether the cells are cancerous. If the cells are cancerous, the biopsy results can tell your doctor where cancer originated — the type of cancer.

A biopsy also helps your doctor determine how aggressive your cancer is — cancer's grade. The grade is sometimes expressed as a number on a scale of 1 to 4 and is determined by how cancer cells look under the microscope.

In certain cases, such as during surgery, a pathologist examines the sample of cells immediately and results are available to your surgeon within minutes. But in most cases, the results of your biopsy are available in a few days.