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Do Biopsies Spread Cancer?

Posted 1/2/2013

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The questions and worries about whether biopsies spread cancer seem to persist in spite of evidence to the contrary. In some ways, this concern is similar to the old one that I used to hear: "I was at a party yesterday, and everyone had glasses except me. I was handed a plastic cup. They think that cancer is contagious." Yes, indeed, I truly heard that frequently in the early years of my work, fortunately have not heard it in a very long time. Should you be wondering: cancer is not contagious.

  The observations about biopsies spreading cancer are less clear to us non medical people. We do hear stories about someone who had a biopsy and shortly thereafter learned that the cancer was much more widespread than anticipated. There are lots of reasons that could happen, and none of them are related to the biopsy. This is an excellent short piece from BreastCancer.org about this issue. I give you the beginning and then a link to read more:

What My Patients Are Asking: Can Getting a Biopsy Spread the Cancer?

By Brian Wojciechowski, M.D.

First of all, there is no way of getting around a biopsy. There are side effects with any procedure but in order to properly treat a patient, a good biopsy specimen is absolutely critical. The benefit of being able to select the proper surgery and subsequent treatment clearly outweighs the risk.

That said, many women come to me concerned that their biopsy might have spread their cancer along the line where the needle traversed the breast (known as the needle tract). More cancer (or higher stage cancer) is often found when a woman has surgery after the biopsy and more tissue is removed. For this reason, itʼs understandable to wonder whether the biopsy procedure itself actually caused the cancer to spread or progress further. On top of this, in other cancers such as testicular, doctors are taught never to biopsy the tumor with a needle because of concern it could seed the tumor along the needle tract, though this is unproven. The organ is simply removed whole.

So should you worry about this? The short answer is no. Let me explain.

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