Will performing a biopsy cause a cancer to spread?
That’s a great question, and something that is a concern to pet owners. Whether a cancer spreads to other parts of the body is influenced by a number of factors –the type of tumor, where it is and the species affected. So with respect to general spread, no, biopsy doesn’t cause that, any more than the tumor would have spread anyway.
Where it does come into play is with a technique called fine needle aspirate biopsy, where a thin needle is inserted into the tumor mass and a sample of cells is aspirated, or sucked out, then spread on a slide to be examined. There have been suggestions that as the needle is withdrawn from the tumor, it could leave cancer cells behind along its tract. Studies have shown that this tends to be more of a concern with certain types of cancer, such as bladder cancer, and even then it’s extremely rare.
Fine needle aspirate biopsies are very useful. They’re often a less invasive way of figuring out exactly what type of tumor we’re dealing with. If we avoid that procedure, then the alternative is usually much more invasive – general anesthesia with surgical biopsy or removal of the lump, or even opening up the abdominal cavity to have a look at a mass. The information we obtain from a fine needle aspirate biopsy outweighs the very small risk of spread of cancer cells in the area of the tumor from the procedure. If you're dealing with cancer in your pet and you're concerned about any aspect of their diagnosis and treatment, chat to your vet or oncologist and they'll be able to answer any specific questions.
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