To Do a Needle Biopsy or Not? A Quick and Easy Technique With Unacknowledged Dangers
North America is the country with the highest rate of breast cancer in the world, (1) and doing a needle biopsy on a woman with multiple breast lumps, or just a single breast cyst, is nowadays considered a routine procedure. Furthermore, the Americanized medical system adamantly assures us that such needle biopsies are completely safe; certainly don't spread cancer, and that biopsy risks are minimal.
But is this in fact correct? Is a breast biopsy, for example, truly safe? There is evidence to suggest that doing this seemingly harmless needle biopsy test on any potentially carcinoma tissue is not quite as safe as asserted by today's medical 'experts'.
Some studies indicate that all forms of needle biopsies can significantly increase a patient's chance of developing metastasis from the procedure itself. What this means is that the needle biopsy used to diagnose for cancer, could in fact spread that cancer to other parts of your body.
Obviously, it doesn't make sense to perform such a diagnostic technique, if it could potentially make your cancer situation worse. What needs to be understood too is the simple reality that most people die from their metastasis - not their primary tumor.
Please understand that what isn't being suggested in this article is to avoid doing a needle biopsy altogether. However, it is best to be as informed as possible, which in turn allows you the option of making alternative diagnostic choices where these do exist.
Let's explore this issue in greater depth, and then you can make up your own mind what you subsequently think about this very quick, easy, simple and useful, but possibly dangerous needle biopsy technique.
So, What is a Needle Biopsy Anyway?
There are several types of biopsy which can be done. The most common method is doing a needle biopsy, which consists of using a hollow tube or needle, which is inserted right into the suspected cancerous tissue, allowing a sample of living tissue to be removed and subsequently examined in a laboratory.
It also needs to be clarified that not all needle biopsies are automatically for finding cancer alone. A needle biopsy can equally be done in order to better understand how certain diseases are progressing in organs like the liver or kidneys - for example. For someone who has chronic hepatitis, a liver biopsy can give vital information as to how severely the hepatitis virus may be damaging the liver, and hence how important certain treatment interventions may be.
But for now, let's bring the discussion back primarily to how a needle biopsy relates to establishing a cancer diagnosis.
In what is called a 'fine needle aspiration', a breast lump, for instance, would have a fine bore - or diameter - needle inserted into the suspected tissue so as to extract a small sample of cells. These cells would then be examined by a highly trained and skilled technician to determine whether those cells are normal, or show signs of abnormality.
Different Types of Needle Biopsy
The difference between biopsies done by a 'fine needle' and a 'core needle' is that the latter needle has a much bigger diameter. This has advantages, such as being able to obtain a larger amount of the suspected cancerous tissue, which in turn also allows for a more accurate diagnosis by the technician.
Because such 'core needles' can come in quite a large diameter, doing a core needle biopsy could end up taking out the entire cancer if the suspected tissue being sampled was still small enough. However, upon examination in the laboratory, it would also become obvious whether all, or only part of the suspected cancer had been removed.
If the biopsied sample edges only contain cancerous cells, and no normal, healthy cells, this would indicate an incomplete removal of all cancerous tissue. In such a situation, the doctor would have to go back, and do a far wider excision to ensure all abnormal tissue had been adequately and fully removed.
What Then is an Open Biopsy?
Here, the doctor – or preferably a surgeon skilled in cancer, as well as such sampling procedures – has to cut into the person to access the lump, cyst, lymph node or tumor. This is usually reserved for those cases where the cancer is situated much deeper inside the patient, and not directly accessible via the skin.
Being more invasive, this technique of obtaining a sample of tissue also inevitably:
• requires a full anesthetic
• involves increased risks of infection
• can cause a greater likelihood of scarring
• results in more pain post-operatively
• may cause a higher incidence of bleeding afterwards – especially in patients with low platelets; a common occurrence in those with cancer.
However, the plus side of doing a tumor biopsy this way is that an even greater amount of intact tissue can be obtained than via a 'core needle' – let alone a 'fine needle' - allowing for a much greater array of tests to be done on it. Thus, doing a core needle biopsy would increase the possibility of testing the tissue for 'chemo-sensitivity' and various 'cancer markers', all resulting in a greater chance of better treatment outcomes.
So, What's the Problem Then With Doing a Needle Biopsy?
In a nutshell... there is clinical evidence, plus research (2,3,4,5,6,7) which shows a definite correlation between having a needle biopsy done, and subsequently higher rates of metastasis in those people who have had such a procedure. To say the least, this is a highly disturbing finding, so let's try to better understand why this could be happening.
Firstly, it needs to be understood that cancer cells are inherently different from normal cells. They're less organized on a structural level, which means they don't necessarily adhere together like regular cells either.
Hence, when they are disturbed – by surgery or needle biopsy – they more readily dislodge from the main mass of cells, which also allows them to more easily enter either the blood or lymph systems.
Furthermore, all cells in our body are surrounded by tiny blood vessels called capillaries. As well, all cells are bathed by a fluid called interstitial fluid, which is linked to the lymphatic system. Hence, when a scalpel or needle is inserted into our body tissue, these tiny capillaries can be easily damaged, leading to bleeding – which means an entry point has now been created into the general circulation, which extends throughout the body.
Stick a Needle into Tissue; Drag it Out Again – What Do You Think Really Happens?
Now, let's go through what inevitably happens if you stick a needle into body tissue, be that skin, or breast cysts, or when doing a prostate biopsy, or any other tissue sampling.
There is absolutely no way that sticking a needle – nevermind how fine! – into living tissue isn't going to cause at least some trauma to that tissue, resulting in the rupture of those tiny capillaries mentioned earlier.
As that needle is stuck into potentially cancerous tissue, and then withdrawn, a certain amount of those readily dislodged cancer cells will remain on the needle as it is pulled back through the healthy – but damaged and bleeding tissue - surrounding the suspected cancerous mass.
The concern is that this action results in a seeding of those cancerous cells from the tumor into the surrounding healthy tissue. Another complication is that the defenses to our body's interior have now been breached, due to the needle-damaged capillaries providing an open 'doorway' into the general circulatory system.
But it goes even further, because the interstitial fluid which normally surrounds all cells, also provides a significant, liquid 'catchment' system into which those dislodged, cancerous cells are now seeded. From there, it's but a relatively minor route to the nearest lymph node, and thence into major parts of the lymphatic system, which eventually empties into the blood system.
Therefore, the problem is that such a breach of normal body defenses - caused by the needle biopsy - now allows the potential entry of those cancer cells into the general circulation on both a blood and lymphatic level.
Most Fine Needle Biopsy Procedures Involve Multiple Tissue Entries
The situation described above is even more of a worry when the biopsied tissue is repeatedly stabbed – or macerated! – by that needle, in an effort to obtain multiple samples, as well as maximize the possibility of actually finding cancerous tissue in the site being explored. This is particularly true of a prostate needle biopsy, where the poor gland may be needled repeatedly; but it also occurs in breast and other tissue sampling.
However, now we have another problem presenting itself. When tissue is damaged, the body obviously tries to repair itself as soon as possible. In order to hasten such healing, the body secretes various 'repair factors', which stimulate normal cells to divide more rapidly, and thus restore a damaged area of tissue. Additionally, such tissue trauma generates inflammation.
But such 'repair factors', as well as inflammation, have the unfortunate side-effect of also stimulating abnormal cells, or micro-metastasis in the area, increasing the chances of these developing into full-blown tumors.
In the End, It All Boils Down to Good Ol' Fashioned Common Sense
It truly doesn't take rocket science to figure all this out in a rational and logical way, with the dawning realization that it's not as far-fetched as medicine would have us believe, that such a biopsy technique can result in significant, unwanted consequences.
Furthermore, as vindicated by the above-mentioned research, when this situation is in fact studied, the alarming conclusion reached is that a needle biopsy does seem to lead to a higher rate of metastasis. And yet, doctors generally remain adamant that this particular diagnostic technique, via biopsies, is very safe.
Why This Disparity Between Basic, Rational Thinking & Medical Opinion?
One seemingly cynical – yet rather obvious – conclusion to such a question is that cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry, and amongst the many secondary aspects to its overall management, the high use of needle biopsies has become a much relied upon diagnostic tool.
If you do the maths for the American situation, then even in the breast cancer arena alone it has been estimated that when calculated over the population group of 62 million women older than age 40; and based on an average of 1-2 million women tested per year; at about $1,000 per needle biopsy plus $100 for a mammogram… this equates to a multi-billion dollar a year industry. That's a huge amount of business to suddenly put at risk by acknowledging needle biopsies may increase your chances of metastasis!
The other aspect that can stifle change – especially in an arena like the medical system – is that doctors are strictly controlled by their Associations and other professional Organizations, as to what is deemed an orthodox, accepted, and hence allowed way to diagnose and treat their patients.
For instance, doctors are generally not permitted to promote, let alone practice natural healing techniques, or use alternative therapeutic 'tools' – like herbs or homeopathy, to name but two. If they do, there is a significant likelihood of severe sanctions by those same professional bodies - if not being struck off the Register and prevented from further practice altogether.
The reality is that at this present time, the 'accepted wisdom' within the medical community is that needle biopsies are safe, and don't enhance the formation of metastasis; end of story. So, any doctor going against this 'accepted wisdom', risks a lot if they decide to push unconventional opinions contrary to that 'wisdom'.
Hence, even if on a private level some doctors have reservations about certain medical procedures or treatments, like a needle biopsy, they are locked into having to stick to the 'party-line' – or else. So, don't expect your doctor to acknowledge the potential risks of biopsies until this becomes the officially sanctioned new 'truth of the day'... and that could take a while!
In the meantime, there is the possibility for much harm to be done by a technique used for diagnosing a particularly serious health issue, but with the ironic potential of also worsening the long-term prognosis of people undergoing such a procedure.
In other words, we're stuck with a troubling and rather circuitous enigma, where a needle biopsy is done in order to confirm that a suspicious lump or cyst is indeed cancerous, but if it is found to be a cancer, then the very act of having diagnosed it via a biopsy has also increased the risk of spreading that cancer further within the body.
But Is It All Bad News With Needle Biopsies?
There are indeed many advantages to this technique - especially when using the fine needle biopsy - such as:
• It's relatively cheap compared to open surgical excision of a tissue sample
• Biopsies are easy to perform by most doctors
• They can be done on-site at the practice clinic, rather than in hospital
• They require no general anesthetic
• Most biopsies can be done quickly – less doctor's time to pay for
• It's almost painless in most cases
• There's little to no scarring from the procedure
However, aside from the potential for enhancing metastasis, there are some disadvantages to fine needle biopsies, such as missing the cancerous tissue altogether within a 'lump' or cyst. This would result in a 'all-clear' diagnosis, when in fact a very early stage of cancer may already exist, but is now left untreated.
This is especially prone to occur in doing a prostate biopsy, where it can be challenging to 'bulls-eye' the actual cancer compared to only hitting healthy tissue.
But What if the Biopsy Comes Back Positive?
Ironically, if the diagnosis comes back as 'positive' for cancer, an entirely different issue abruptly presents itself. Here, a patient is inevitably rushed into treatment, before having adequate time to deal with what is often an overwhelming diagnosis from an emotional level.
Nor does such a sudden push into therapy allow them to do more research before submitting to the only recognized, orthodox cancer treatments on offer, which are: chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.
But that is another story, discussed in two alternative health articles on this website, which you might like to read, namely:
A Naturopathic Perspective on Cancer, or Upon Diagnosis - a summary of things to think about.
Now What? Does This Mean Never Doing a Needle Biopsy?
The short answer is: 'no'. However, there is an urgent need for science and medicine to do further research into the connection between needle biopsies, and increased incidence of metastasis. This would not necessarily require expensive trials, since copious amounts of clinical data and records already exist from which one could extract such confirmation – or not.
It's also worth looking at a few caveats, as well as alternatives to doing a biopsy. For instance, if a suspected tumor is not able to be removed via an operation, or it is too dangerous to go in surgically – perhaps a lump set deep within the brain – yet a diagnosis is critical so as to be able to instigate the correct treatment, then a needle biopsy may be the only option.
In other circumstances, a complete removal of the suspected malignant lump, with a wide-margin excision may be a better option – a lumpectomy, for instance. The reason is simple, in that if on laboratory examination the lump is later found to be cancerous, and the entire mass was taken out, then there would be almost no chance of any cancer cells being disturbed or dislodged in the process.
Especially if plenty of healthy tissue was also removed by such an excision, thus enhancing the prevention of any cancerous cells being seeded into the blood or lymphatic systems for further distribution around the body.
It's true that such lumpectomies would result in more scarring... but are we perhaps putting consmetic concerns ahead of safety?
PET Scans, MRI's, CT Scans, Ultrasounds, Thermography... and Other Options
There are relatively few modern, medical diagnostic tools which are either completely safe, or completely accurate in their ability to find cancer within the body.
Hence, like so many other things in life, often-times we need to make compromises. However, such choices and decisions should be based, wherever possible, on the best possible risk:benefit analysis of the situation at hand.
So too with all the various diagnostic techniques mentioned above. PET Scans, for instance, use a dose of radioactive glucose with which to find cancerous tissue within the body. However, the dose of radiation used is extremely low when compared to a CT Scan or even a full dental X-ray of both upper and lower jaws – a procedure done often enough without any qualms by either operators or recipients.
Equally, one could argue that a very low dose of radiation – as unwelcome as that may be within the body – is nevertheless a better option than doing a procedure that has shown its capacity to increase the chance of metastasis.
Especially, when one can actively help negate the negative consequences of such radiation by a range of anti-oxidants and other natural substances known to help protect or repair DNA.
Again, remember, modern cancer treatments are already hopelessly inadequate in treating primary tumors, let alone metastasis, providing all the more reason not to do anything that can enhance the latter! You might like to read more about why this is so in a special article, entitled: A Naturopathic Perspective on Cancer.
What About Thermography?
When dealing with breast cysts, Thermography would be a far better option than Mammography - with all its associated dangers too. Aside from the cumulative amount of radiation a woman would accrue over decades of such screening, one other danger is what happens when a breast, with cysts, is overly manipulated and squashed in this testing procedure. Here, there is the possibility of rupturing the encapsulating wall around any cancerous tissue.
Once this happens, like with a needle biopsy, cancer cells can become seeded into the blood or lymph systems, with all the consequences we've already discussed. (8) Equally, such damaged breast tissue would release 'repair factors' – again, with outcomes mentioned previously.
Thermography is a non-invasive and accurate means of finding abnormal tissue in a breast, but it is politics and dollars, rather than pure science which goads the present suppression of this innovative form of diagnosis. Probably the main driver to this reality is the huge investment which has gone into Mammography infrastructure over the years, plus the usual sluggish response by far too many areas of science when it comes to new knowledge or techniques.
According to Gregg Braden, nowadays it can take about eight to ten years of lag-time, between new research being presented, then reviewed, and finally published in 'acceptable' journals, let alone making it into the textbooks. (9) It used to be a lot longer! Think back to the 15+ years it took for medicine to finally accept that folic acid could indeed help prevent Spina bifida.
Cofactors Which Can Determine How Readily Metastasis Could Occur
One important concept, completely ignored by modern medicine, is the reality that there are a wide range of natural therapeutic options which can be instigated to minimize the potential for any metastatic cells, released during a needle biopsy, to implant elsewhere in the body. This is where natural therapies truly comes into its own, backed by increasing research to vindicate the use of such treatment choices.
It's important to understand that the degree to which cells are able to metastasize, implant and become active secondary cancers depends on such co-factors as:
• A healthy immune system
• Overall health status of a person
• A wide range of lifestyle and environmental factors already known to negatively affect optimum immune function and health, such as excessive stress or dietary indiscretions; regular recreational drug use; smoking; excessive drinking, etc.
• A person's toxic burden – a common reality in today's heavily polluted world
• In the case of surgery to remove breast cancers from women who are still menstruating, research has clearly shown that the stage of a woman's cycle at which such surgery is done can greatly determine the spread of metastasis, and hence future prognosis
Incorrect Timing of Cancer Surgery in a Woman Can Have Serious Consequences
For instance, what research has shown in regard to this latter point is that if surgery for the removal of breast cancer is done between day 18-20 of a woman's menstrual cycle, this results in the best long-term outcomes. However, surgery done during days 1-6 or 21-36 are the worst times, leading to a higher incidence of metastasis. (10,11,12,13,14 )
This research goes back to 1989 and beyond, yet rarely, if ever gets mentioned by doctors working within the Americanized system of medicine – which sadly includes nations like the UK and Australia. Why?
These studies were done on breast cancer, but would suggest an urgent need to do further research on other cancers too – especially in women.
Some Concluding Thoughts On Having a Needle Biopsy Done
A complete book would need to be written here to help explain why all the above mentioned co-factors have such a profound impact on health. However, a core point to remember is that one primary role of a healthy immune system is to find and destroy abnormal cells anywhere within the body. This is a well known, scientific fact, already long accepted by orthodox medicine.
So, why the sluggishness to incorporate such known factors into a complementary approach to cancer diagnosis and treatment? As Gregg Braden states in his fascinating new book, Deep Truth: 'To discount new and proven facts when they clearly do not support an existing scientific belief is, in fact, not scientific'. (15) (emphasis added)
Realize that much has been left unsaid in this exploration on the pros and cons of doing a biopsy; especially a needle biopsy. However, what I hope has been achieved here is to at least get you thinking more deeply about this frequently used, yet mostly unquestioned diagnostic tool.
From the above discussion, it should now be obvious that there's a lot more to doing a breast tissue biopsy, or a prostate biopsy procedure – to name but two of the most common arenas where biopsies are used on a daily basis – than meets the eye.
Hence, the question is not so much: 'do I or don't I now have a needle biopsy done'? Rather, the realization should be that, yes, there is room for biopsies, however, they should always be done in association with the use of a wide range of other, more complementary approaches.
Again, if cancer is suspected to be a health issue you may be facing, then such approaches include:
• an wholistic overview of one's overall health status from a naturopathic perspective
• reviewing your daily life for the various dietary as well as lifestyle factors known to have negative impacts on general health, as well as specifically on immune health
• actively utilizing a vast range of natural therapeutic agents and techniques, long known through both research as well as clinical experience to have positive, strengthening effects on health
• to ensure a comprehensive assessment of all toxin exposures in your daily life
• as well as to actively engage in detoxing protocols, which can safely and effectively remove many of the toxins you - not may - but will have been exposed to.
• Make the best possible choices for alternative and safer diagnostic options; do your research, and demand them from your doctors
• And finally, to instigate pro-active, naturally orientated treatments to minimize the possibilities of any cancerous cells that may be released via a needle biopsy becoming active metastasis elsewhere in your body
There truly is so much more you can do to maximize the benefits of doing a needle biopsy, while also minimizing their serious potential for doing further harm.
This is where it's important to find yourself a good natural practitioner, well versed in complementary ways of managing cancer. It's also best if they are local, and easily accessible for on-going overview and guidance from these more holistic and natural perspectives, as discussed in this article.
2) (Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly CancerDecisions.com. Newsletter #169 01/30/05 – '50% of Needle Biopsies Spread Cancer' - http://www.alkalizeforhealth.net/Lneedlebiopsy.htm/
3) Baum M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W, et al. Does surgery unfavourably perturb the 'natural history' of early breast cancer by accelerating the appearance of distant metastases? Eur J Cancer. 2005 Mar;41(4):508-15
4) Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W. Wounding from biopsy and breast-cancer progression. Lancet. 2001;357(9261):1048
5) Nexus Magazine.June/July.2004.11.(4).26
6) Lancet 2001;357:1048
7) Townsend Letter for Doctors.Dec.1994.137.1391
8) Rosser RJ. A point of view: Trauma is the cause of occult micrometastatic breast cancer in sentinel axillary lymph nodes. Breast J 2000; 6(3):209-212
9) Braden, Gregg, Deep Truth, Hay House Inc, 2011.p.xv
10) Saad et al. (Br J Surg; 81(2):217-20 1994; UI: 94207736
11) R. A. Badwe et al. (Lancet; 337(8752):1261-4 1991; UI: 91226296)
12) Bluming & Hrushesky (Ann N Y Acad Sci; 618:277-91 1991; UI: 91174387)
13) William J. M. Hrushesky et al. (Lancet; 2(8669):949-52 1989; UI: 90013738
14) Vantyghem SA, Postenka CO, Chambers AF. (2003 Aug) 'Estrous cycle influences organ-specific metastasis of B16F10 melanoma cells'. Cancer Res. 15;63(16):4763-5)
15) Braden, Gregg, Deep Truth, Hay House Inc, 2011.p.20
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