What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is a sample of tissue from a living organism that is used as a diagnostic tool. Biopsies are done to identify various diseases or to eliminate certain causes of symptoms. There are several ways a doctor can collect a biopsy, and a variety of techniques can be used to analyze the resulting sample. If you are scheduled for a biopsy, you may want to discuss with your doctor the specific technique that will be used to collect the sample.

When a patient complains of a medical problem, a doctor uses a variety of techniques to diagnose the problem. Most doctors try to start with non-invasive procedures before they start taking tissue samples. A biopsy may be necessary when other diagnostic tools reveal no obvious problem, or when a scan of the patient's body shows that there is an area of ​​irregularity that may require a closer look.

The most basic biopsy can be taken with a scraping. A doctor would rub a swab on a patient's skin, for example, to take a sample to determine the cause of a skin condition. Biopsies can also be taken with large-diameter needles that basically remove a core sample, and in some cases forceps or forceps are used inside the body, aided by endoscopic tools to help the doctor see. A biopsy can also be taken using surgical techniques, in which a small section of the area of ​​interest is cut out.

A surgical biopsy can also be a useful tool when it is clear that the problem may be caused by a malignancy. This type of biopsy can be used to remove questionable moles or lymph nodes near a cancerous area entirely, reducing the risk of the problem spreading. When a pathologist examines the sample, they can determine whether or not it was malignant and whether or not the surgeon needs to remove more material for the safety of the patient.

A pathologist may view a biopsy under a microscope for obvious signs of irregularity, or use chemical testing methods to detect less obvious conditions. Once the pathologist has studied the sample, she sends the results to the doctor who ordered the biopsy, along with recommendations for treatment that the doctor can consider in a treatment plan. In the case of a malignancy, the results will also indicate that the biopsy had "positive margins," meaning the doctor needs to remove more tissue, or "negative margins," meaning that all of the malignancy was removed.

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