Dispelling the top five myths around biopsies


A needle biopsy can disturb cancer cells, causing them to travel to other parts of the body 

There is no evidence that biopsies spread cancer cells. In fact, it is critical to perform a biopsy on any lumps to see if they are cancerous. Surgeons take precautions to prevent cancer cells from spreading during both biopsies and surgery. For example, in taking tissue from more than one area of the body, they use different surgical tools for each one. If a diagnosis is made, the tumor is removed surgically by taking out a surrounding margin of normal tissue.


Biopsy marking clips are chipsthat can track a patientswhereabouts and stop entry through airport security

Clips are used in breast biopsies to provide permanent markers to identify areas from where tissue has been removed. Made from titanium, the same metal used in hip and knee-joint replacements, these clips are the size of sesame seeds and are rarely felt. They do not set off metal detectors and cannot be used as tracker devices. Allergic reactions are very rare. Clips are inserted into the breast at the end of the biopsy and show up on future mammograms.


A biopsy is essential if prostate cancer is suspected

Not true. A study of 576 men reported this year in The Lancet concluded that initial MRI scans could reduce over-diagnosis of harmless cancers by 5 per cent, prevent one in four men having an unnecessary biopsy and improve detection of aggressive cancers from 48 to 93 per cent. Current biopsies can be inaccurate because tissue samples are taken at random, while scans help to differentiate between aggressive and harmless cancers. Scans were found to have correctly diagnosed almost all the aggressive cancers (93 per cent) while the standard so-called TRUS biopsy correctly diagnosed only half (48 per cent).


All liquid biopsies are non-invasive

Unique cancer mutations can now be identified in microscopic fragments of DNA in a patient’s blood in what are known as liquid biopsies which remove the need for traditional biopsies involving invasive surgical procedures. The term liquid biopsy covers specimens other than solid tissue. These include blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid and liquid removed for bone marrow biopsies for investigation of blood cancers. Describing a bone marrow biopsy as non-invasive may generate surprise in patients who have had them. Performed under local anaesthetic, they involve extracting both a liquid portion of bone marrow and a solid tissue sample.


Surgical breast biopsies are more accurate and less painful than less-invasive stereotactic breast biopsies guided by X-ray

Not true, according to research. Stereostatic biopsies, which involve a small incision, have been found to be at least of comparable accuracy to surgical biopsies. They are also less invasive, less painful and cheaper. Most women report little or no pain and no scarring on the breast, although there are always slight risks with any needle test, such as bleeding, bruising and soreness. Very rarely an infection may occur. The procedure includes a local anaesthetic to numb the skin.