I recently went to the dermatologist for a full exam. As a bonus, she removed a small lump that I’ve had for years. She numbed the area and in 2 seconds (maybe even less) removed the pea-sized lump, putting in a couple of stitches and a Band-Aid. Then, she labeled the sample and sent it off to the lab.  She assured me that it looked normal, so I shouldn’t worry, but that it was very important to make sure that I get the results. Then she gave me written post-biopsy care instructions.

Other biopsies

I thought about other times in my life when a biopsy has been important.  In the early 1980s, my dad discovered a tumor behind his ear. I still recall hearing my parents talking about it, worrying until the results came back benign.

It was that experience that I remembered when I felt my husband’s hard, enlarged, supraclavicular lymph nodes. Only, I knew more as an adult. It was even scarier.

I was also in the room when they did a biopsy on Dan…and when we got the results.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.  Usually, when we think of biopsies, we think of cancer, but they help doctors diagnose other types of disease, as well. Biopsies tell whether or not a patient is rejecting transplanted organ.

There are many types of biopsies.

I’ve already told you about my skin biopsy. The doctor removed a lump just under the skin, like any other skin biopsy. A circular “punch” blade removed the cylindrical shape sample.

If the lump had been larger or in a difficult to reach place in the body, the doctor would perform a surgical biopsy.

The most common type of biopsy, the needle biopsy, uses a needle to remove the tissue the pathologist will test.

When Dan had his biopsy done, they did a fine needle aspiration biopsy. The doctor used an ultrasound to guide her as she inserted a fine needle into his lymph node and sucked up cells to test. They pulled cells from several lymph nodes. By using this technique, they could avoid going into his lung. They also knew from the positive results that cancer had spread through the lymphatic system.

Sometimes rather than using ultrasound, the doctor will use a CT scan to guide the needle.

Biopsies vary depending on the type of tissue the doctor is collecting.

A bone marrow biopsy- When a doctor suspects a blood cancer such as leukemia or lymphoma, they insert a needle into the pelvis bone to collect the sample,

A liver biopsy- The doctor inserts a needle through the belly to gather the liver tissue.

A kidney biopsy- The doctor inserts the needle through the patient’s back into the kidney.

In a prostate biopsy- Doctors take multiple needle biopsies at a time from the prostate gland via a probe inserted into the rectum.

Some biopsies are more invasive than others.

The doctor can perform a skin biopsy right in the doctor’s office with minimal discomfort during and after the procedure. Dan’s doctor did a fine needle aspiration biopsy a clinic, as well. Sometimes patients go to a hospital for this type of biopsy and take pain medication after the procedure.

After the doctor collects the tissue, he sends it to a pathologist. The pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope. Most of the time, the pathologist will be able to diagnose the patient’s condition. Sometimes a pathologist will attend the procedure and make a diagnosis immediately. Usually, they will take a week or longer.

It’s never fun, getting a biopsy done, but, it’s the only way to make a definitive cancer diagnosis for most types of cancer.


I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin