A biopsy is a short procedure during which a doctor takes a small sample of cells from the suspicious tissue. A pathologist examines the tissue sample under a microscope and determines whether the cells are normal or cancerous.
We use the least invasive biopsy procedure possible, minimizing discomfort while still obtaining enough cells to make a diagnosis.
We specialize in image-guided biopsy, which uses one of our imaging technologies to precisely locate the area where we need to take the tissue sample. We offer several types of biopsy, and you may need one or more types depending on your individual case.
- Needle biopsy: The doctor inserts a needle into the tumor to remove a tiny sample of cells. There are 2 types:
- Fine-needle aspiration biopsy uses a very thin needle and syringe. You may or may not need a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) for this procedure.
- Core biopsy uses a wider needle to take the sample. Your doctor will give you a local anesthetic to numb you for the procedure. This is the biopsy procedure we use most often to confirm a diagnosis of sarcoma.
- Image-guided biopsy: Our radiologists often use imaging to precisely locate the abnormal tissue and guide the needle for the sample. Types of imaging for guided biopsy include:
- MRI-guided biopsy using radio waves and a magnetic field
- Ultrasound-guided biopsy using high-frequency sound waves
- Surgical biopsy: In some situations, a surgeon may remove part of a tumor for testing, or all of it. The goal is to determine whether the tumor is benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Pathology: Analyzing biopsies
After you have a biopsy, your nurse sends your tissue samples to our pathologists for review. A pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in reviewing and evaluating lab tests, cells, and tissues to diagnose disease. Our pathologists analyze biopsy samples to determine whether the tissue is cancerous and, if so, what type of cancer it is.
At the Stanford Sarcoma Program, our pathologists specialize in sarcoma. That focus means they have extensive expertise interpreting biopsies and other tests to confirm or rule out a sarcoma diagnosis.
Because sarcoma represents a complex group of different diseases, it’s important to have expert pathologists on your care team. Years of experience studying sarcoma every day means your pathologist can accurately identify critical details. This information includes whether the cancer:
- Is invasive or noninvasive
- Shows a high or low cell grade (rating that describes how different the cancer cells are from normal cells)
- Is aggressive or slow growing
- Contains molecules that indicate the cancer subtype
All these details help form an accurate diagnosis, which is vital to your treatment plan. Your care team takes the time to do a thorough evaluation from the start so that your treatment will be more effective.
Tumor tissue bank
Our doctors and researchers work to thoroughly understand the true diversity of cancer and identify the genetic abnormalities that can play a role in sarcoma formation. That’s why it’s critical that our doctors have access to tissue samples to plan for each patient’s care.
At Stanford, we store tissue samples so we can use them for research, using the following process:
- After we take a biopsy (tiny sample of tissue), we ask you if you would like to give it to the tissue bank.
- The tissue first goes to the laboratory, where the pathologist samples it.
- If you approve, the tissue then goes to sarcoma research specialists. These doctors work with our clinicians (doctors involved in patient care) to identify new pathways of tumor formation and possible treatments.
The data is made anonymous and is not available to you after donation, because we use it for research and not for clinical use in making treatment decisions.
Our tumor bank provides our doctors and other researchers with a variety of different types of sarcoma cells to study. As we work on new methods and tools for diagnosing and treating cancer, our goal is to move these findings from the lab into patient care.
Stanford Health Library
For confidential help with your health care questions, contact the Stanford Health Library. Professional medical librarians and trained volunteers can help you access journals, books, e-books, databases, and videos to learn more about medical conditions, treatment options, and related issues.
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