What surgical biopsies are used in oncology to diagnose cancer?

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

Surgical biopsies are mainly considered for tumors when they are not amendable to other less invasive forms of biopsy such percutaneous or endoscopic.

For skin and breast tumors, typically an excisional biopsy is done to remove the whole tumor and then evaluate for pathology/margins, etc., to determine next steps.

Rarely an incisional biopsy may be done if there is a large mass and it is thought that by confirming a diagnosis it may alter treatment such as initiating chemotherapy/radiation prior to removal. This is seen with sarcoma for example.

Most surgical biopsies require some sedation/anesthesia and strict sterile technique.

Surgical biopsy procedures in oncology might be used if your tumor is too difficult to reach via other biopsy methods or if the results of a preliminary biopsy do not appear conclusive. Surgical biopsies are more invasive than other forms of biopsy, because they require a surgeon to make an incision to reach the tumor. An incisional biopsy allows the oncologist to remove just a portion of the tumor for examination in the lab. In an excisional biopsy, the oncologist removes an entire tumor. Surgical biopsies often require general, local or regional anesthesia.

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