Think Twice Before Undergoing a Biopsy

by Dr. David Brownstein

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Is it wise to sample a growth in the body to ascertain if it is cancerous? The standard of care in medicine believes it is. I am not so sure.

An article in Cancer Cytopathology (doi:10.1002/oncy.2120; Accepted June 18, 2012) reported that a commonly used biopsy method can result in complications. Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a common medical procedure used to obtain tissue for pathological examination. It is used in thyroid biopsies. FNA is done by inserting a small needle into the tissue and aspirating a sample. The aspirate is then placed on a slide for pathological examination. Researchers studied 96 subjects who underwent a thyroidectomy – they had their whole thyroid gland removed. These same subjects had previously been subjected to a FNA of their thyroid gland.

The scientists reported that 68 of the 96 (71%) thyroidectomy specimens examined had needle tracks. That means that the previous biopsies – the FNA’s – were still visible after the whole thyroid gland was removed. The longest time between the FNA and the thyroidectomy surgery was reported to be >81 days. In this population, 74% were found to have needle tracks.

What is wrong with a needle track? Cancer becomes a bigger problem when it spreads. When you introduce a needle into a cancerous mass, upon withdrawal of the needle, cancer cells can be released into the needle track. Now, for thyroid biopsies, FNA might be an appropriate diagnostic procedure since thyroid cancer is (usually) a slow growing tumor. However, for other tissue such as the breast or the prostate, the answer is not so clear.

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David Brownstein, M.D. is a Board-Certified family physician and is one of the foremost practitioners of holistic medicine. He is the Medical Director of the Center for Holistic Medicine in West Bloomfield, MI. Dr. Brownstein has lectured internationally to physicians and others about his success in using natural hormones and nutritional therapies in his practice.