Are Needle Biopsies Safe?

The CancerDecisions.com Web site recently published an interesting two-part article (access it through the links at the bottom of this item) on the arguable safety of needle biopsies. What attracted me to it was the opening section that detailed the results of a 2004 study by the John Wayne Cancer Institute that received scant national attention. Nevertheless, the main finding was indeed sobering: A needle biopsy may indeed increase the spread of the disease by 50 percent compared to patients who receive the more traditional lumpectomy.

Researchers studied some 650 women who had breast cancer. Of these, about half had been biopsied with a needle, either a fine needle aspiration (FNA) or a large-gauge needle core biopsy. The rest had undergone the physical removal of their tumor (an excisional biopsy or lumpectomy). The study found women who had had either kind of needle biopsy were 50 percent more likely to have cancer in their sentinel nodes than those who underwent the surgical removal of the whole tumor with excisional biopsy.

Simply put, the common needle biopsy may be responsible for spreading the cancer, although researchers qualified their findings by suggesting not every cluster of cancer cells found in the regional lymph nodes will inevitably end up developing into clinically apparent cancer.

The piece then delves into the history of needle biopsies, whose stature has apparently grown over the past 80 years despite warnings from some experts as far back as 1940. And a more recent study that warned against needle biopsies of the liver for similar reasons that appeared in the British Medical Journal was blasted as tabloid journalism.

The best non-toxic option for tests in lieu of needle biopsies is one I wrote about five years ago on my Web site: Themography.

CancerDecisions.com January 30, 2005

CancerDecisions.com February 6, 2005

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