What is a Pancreatic Biopsy?

C. Webb

A pancreatic biopsy is an outpatient surgical procedure, during which sections of the pancreas are removed for pathological examination. In most cases, pancreatic biopsies are done when pancreatic cancer is suspected; however, there are other pancreatic disorders and diseases that can prompt a biopsy. The procedure is usually a same-day surgery.

Sections of the pancreas are removed during a pancreatic biopsy when cancer is suspected.
Sections of the pancreas are removed during a pancreatic biopsy when cancer is suspected.

A pancreatic biopsy is typically ordered after a pancreatic mass is discovered through an ultrasound or MRI imaging. Though some imaging can discern a tumor from a cyst or scar tissue, others cannot. In addition, the only way to accurately determine whether a pancreatic mass is benign rather or malignant, or noncancerous rather than cancerous, is through a pancreatic biopsy.

The pancreas gland aids in digestion and produces insulin.
The pancreas gland aids in digestion and produces insulin.

The surgeon uses ultrasound, CT, or x-rays to locate the mass. Once it is located, localized anesthetic is used to numb the area for the needle, which is inserted through the skin and guided into the mass. The needle draws out a sample of the pancreas tissue for examination. A lab determines the biopsy results and relays them to the physician, who shares them with the patient.

A pancreas that is not performing correctly may cause bloating and watery stools.
A pancreas that is not performing correctly may cause bloating and watery stools.

The patient is instructed not to eat or drink for the eight hours leading to the test. Patients should discuss prescribed or over-the-counter medication with the pre-operation health care provider to determine whether it should still be taken that morning. Once the paperwork is complete, the patient is prepped for the procedure. After the patient is registered, the pre-op preparation and biopsy typically take a total of 1.5 to 2 hours.

Problems with the pancreas may be detected via ultrasound.
Problems with the pancreas may be detected via ultrasound.

For patients who are anxious, the physician will prescribe medication to help them relax. Depending on the patient, a pancreatic biopsy procedure can cause mild to moderate discomfort without anti-anxiety medication. Following the procedure, the patient's family usually meets with the physician for a preliminary report, and then the actual lab report arrives a few days later with official results.

A keyhole surgery is another type of pancreatic biopsy. This procedure is completed while the patient is under general anesthesia. The surgeon guides a telescope instrument through a cut in the patient's abdominal area and connects the instrument to a video screen. This procedure allows the surgeon to view the pancreas and surrounding organs. It also allows the surgeon to measure the tumor.

After the biopsy, most patients return home the same day. They are told to rest as needed and return to normal daily duties within a day or two. Sometimes the physician will restrict lifting or activities that require physical exertion for a few days to a week.

Lab technicians will determine the biopsy results and forward their findings to the physician.
Lab technicians will determine the biopsy results and forward their findings to the physician.

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