What is Biopsy used for?

By  , Expert Content
Sep 03, 2012

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Biopsy is an invasive medical procedure in which sample of tissue is removed from the body for diagnosis of the disease that is causing the symptoms. The sample that is taken is examined by a pathologist (a doctor who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and tissues under a microscope) under a microscope. In actual terms, sample for biopsy is taken from a living subject.

What is biopsy used for?

Biopsies are done to diagnose underlying disease. Biopsy is usually done to confirm a diagnosis if non-invasive tests, such as MRI, X-ray or CT scan fail to diagnose the disease. After examination of tissue sample, the doctor may call an area of abnormal tissue a lesion, a tumour or a mass.

Some of the conditions that can be diagnosed by biopsy include:

  • Cancer: Cancer is the most common reason for which biopsy is done. If you have a lump or swelling anywhere in the body and the underlying cause is not clear, biopsy may be done. It can help to determine whether the problem is cancerous (malignant) or not (benign). In addition to this, it can help to decide the type of cancer, stage of cancer and  treatment.
  • Peptic ulcer: In people with symptoms suggestive of gastritis, biopsy can help a doctor determine whether it is caused because of ulceration (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or because of some other digestive problem, such as atrophic gastritis.
  • Small bowel disease: In people with chronic diarrhoea or other gastrointestinal symptoms,biopsy can help to diagnose malabsorption syndromes, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and many other conditions.
  • Liver disease: In people with symptoms of liver disease, biopsy can help the doctor diagnose tumours (cancer), cirrhosis of liver and assess response to treatment as in the case of hepatitis.
  • Infection: Needle biopsy from a lesion can help to identify whether there is an infection and causative pathogen.
  • Inflammation: Sample taken by needle biopsy or other means, such as endoscopic biopsy can help to detect if there is infection, cancer or inflammation.
  • Transplanted organs: If a person develops symptoms suggestive of organ rejection after organ transplant, biopsy of the transplanted organ may be done. This can help to determine if the body is rejecting it or whether diseases that made a transplant necessary in the first place have affected the transplanted organ as well.

Biopsy analysis and results

The sample of tissue that is taken is sent to the lab for examination. It may be chemically treated, sliced up into very thin sections and stained (dye is added to the tissue) before examination. A pathologist (a doctor who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and other tissue samples under a microscope or by other tests) examines the samples to make a diagnosis. Blood sample or bone marrow biopsy is examined by a blood specialist (haematologist) to make a diagnosis. The pathologist after examining and studying the sample prepares a report that includes the important findings and sends it to the doctor, who ordered the biopsy. Your doctor will discuss the result of the biopsy during follow-up and then recommend treatment.


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