How Do I Interpret My Biopsy Results?

Helen Akers

Biopsy results are usually reviewed with a patient by a doctor who is able to fully explain what they mean. Generally, results can either come back normal or indicate that there is some degree of abnormality in the collected cells. Changes in the cell structure may range from mild to serious or they may indicate the presence of an infection. Conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease can be interpreted from biopsy results.

A Pap smear is a routine gynecologic test used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix.
A Pap smear is a routine gynecologic test used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix.

In the majority of cases, biopsy results have the possibility of coming back normal or abnormal. Normal results typically mean that the cells are benign or non-cancerous. In terms of brain biopsies, a normal result may be interpreted as the absence of any disease.

Biopsies for prostate cancer are identified according to a Gleason score.
Biopsies for prostate cancer are identified according to a Gleason score.

Sometimes biopsy results might come back as inconclusive. This means that the results do not match the results of a previous test or pre-screening. An example of this would be a pap smear that screens for abnormal changes in cervical cells. The pre-screening results could indicate an abnormality, while the results come back as normal.

Biopsy results are usually reviewed with a patient by a doctor who is able to fully explain what they mean.
Biopsy results are usually reviewed with a patient by a doctor who is able to fully explain what they mean.

For inconclusive results, it may be recommended that the patient come back for further testing at a later time. In some cases, a second biopsy might be performed. In others, a second pre-screening test may be conducted. Screening for cervical cancer often involves a second pap smear test rather than a colposcopy, which is more invasive.

In the majority of cases, biopsy results have the possibility of coming back either normal or abnormal.
In the majority of cases, biopsy results have the possibility of coming back either normal or abnormal.

A brain biopsy is an invasive procedure that tests for abnormalities in brain tissue. When results come back as abnormal, the degree of cell change is examined and classified. Minor changes may indicate an infection or pre-cancerous developments. With some types of cancer, the results also indicate whether the cancerous cells have spread.

The presence of Alzheimer's disease may be interpreted from biopsy results.
The presence of Alzheimer's disease may be interpreted from biopsy results.

Besides providing a diagnosis of disease, the results of a biopsy can indicate what type of treatment needs to be administered. With infections, prescription medications may be given or the infectious material may be surgically removed. Pre-cancerous cell changes usually require some type of surgical treatment to remove the cells. Follow-up tests may be required to monitor further possible cell modifications.

Biopsy results may be inconclusive.
Biopsy results may be inconclusive.

Some types of changes are classified according to scales. Biopsies performed for prostate cancer are identified according to a Gleason score. The results range from 2 to 10, depending upon their severity. Those cells that receive a higher score are more likely to spread and develop into cancer.

Cancerous tumors may also be classified on a biopsy result. For example, certain types of breast cancer are identified by the protein levels in the tumor. Those that are more lethal are referred to as HER2-positive. This type of abnormal cancerous cell is likely to spread and develop quickly, making aggressive treatment a priority.

A biopsy may be taken of the brain to test for abnormalities.
A biopsy may be taken of the brain to test for abnormalities.

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