Needle biopsies, widely used and accepted as a safe and reliable test for cancer, may not be safe after all. The concern is that the technique may accidentally cause malignant cells to break away from a tumor, allowing it to spread to other areas of the body. And according to a study from the John Wayne Cancer Institute, it appears that a needle biopsy may increase the spread of cancer by 50 percent compared to patients who received excisional biopsies, also known as lumpectomies.
The study involved 663 women with diagnosed breast cancer. About half were biopsied with either a fine needle aspiration (FNA) or a large-gauge needle core biopsy; the other half underwent physical removal of their tumor (or lumpectomy).
It was found that women who had either type of needle biopsy were 50 percent more likely to have cancer in their sentinel nodes, which are used as a marker to determine whether the cancer has spread, than women who had the whole tumor removed surgically.
The finding represents a major impact to patients, as those whose cancer has spread to their lymph nodes are automatically classified as having higher stage cancer and face more invasive, aggressive treatments including the possible dissection of the affected chain of lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation and/or hormonal therapy to eliminate the spreading cancer cells.
Those who have small tumors isolated to the breast are classified as stage I cancer, and the lumpectomy may remove all of the cancer from the breast.
The authors report that the needle biopsy itself, of which tens of thousands are performed in the United States each year, may have been responsible for spreading the cancer in the study participants via "mechanical disruption of the tumor by the needle."
There are some clear advantages to the needle biopsy, including:
- They're nearly painless in-office procedures.
- They're less expensive than surgical biopsies.
- They're faster than surgical biopsies.
However, a tumor may need to be punctured four to six times to retrieve an adequate amount of tissue for diagnostic purposes, and whether this runs the risk of spreading the cancer--into the track formed by the needle or by spilling cells directly into the lymphatic system or bloodstream--is a concept that's been debated for some time.
Needle Biopsies and the Liver
And the issue spreads beyond needle biopsies for breast cancer. A British Medical Journal study reported that fine-needle biopsies of the liver might allow the tumor to be "seeded" in the track of the needle (along with presenting a small increased risk of hemorrhage). While some authors say the seeding occurs in only .003 percent to .07 percent of cases, others say that it occurs .4 percent to 5.1 percent of the time. Using these estimates, it's possible that one in 20 needle biopsies of the liver result in a new tumor.
"Your Cancer has Spread"
Imagine hearing those words as a patient, and then learning that the spread occurred not because of a natural progression but because of the very diagnostic technique that doctors performed. Aside from the emotional aspects a patient must face upon hearing this news, they will likely be subjected to aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, all with their own set of side effects, to stop the spread.
This may be the reason why the John Wayne Cancer study, and the one in the British Medical Journal, have not been widely published by the media--the outrage the public would feel upon learning such news, that needle biopsies may not actually be safe, could bring upon demands for safer diagnostic techniques and class-action lawsuits galore, all upsetting the "smooth-flowing cancer industry."
Other Diagnostic Options
To patients looking to avoid needle biopsies, other options (each with their own ups and downs) do exist. These include:
- Imaging techniques such as CT, MRI, PET scans and ultrasound.
- Thermography, which detects abnormal patterns of heat emanating from areas of high metabolic activity.
CancerDecisions.com January 30, 2005
CancerDecisions.com February 6, 2005
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
The main finding of this study is quite alarming: Needle biopsies that are commonly used in the diagnosis of cancer may actually increase the spread of the cancer by 50 percent compared to patients who do not receive it.
If you carefully read Dr. Ralph Moss' full report you will find it delves more extensively into the history of needle biopsies, and you learn that their use has progressively grown over the past 80 years despite warnings from some experts as far back as 1940. Additionally, a more recent study in the British Medical Journal that warned against needle biopsies of the liver for similar reasons was simply dismissed as tabloid journalism.
I believe one of the best non-toxic options to needle biopsies may be thermography. I ran a review on thermography about this technique about five years ago. While I believe it is likely diagnostic cancer tools will always be necessary, the ideal scenario is to never need them. Why not reduce your chances of ever getting cancer, and therefore eliminate your need for a biopsy, in the first place? In the United States, over 175 people learn that they have cancer every hour, but that simply does not have to be the case.
Considering how important this issue is for nearly everyone you know it might be a good one to forward to your friends and relatives. You can easily do this by using the E-mail to a friend button in the upper right hand section of this page, just under the search box. You can make a larger impact if you write them a personal message in the e-mail as to why they should seriously consider the advice--and why they may want to subscribe to the newsletter.
Here are some key strategies that will help you prevent cancer:
- Control your insulin levels. Make certain that you limit your intake of as much processed foods and sugars as possible.
- Get appropriate amounts of animal based omega-3 fats and make sure you use cod liver oil if you don't have regular access to sun exposure.
- Get appropriate exercise. One of the primary reasons exercise works is that it drives your insulin levels down and controlling insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risks.
- Normalize your vitamin D levels with a safe amount of sun exposure. This works by primarily by optimizing your vitamin D level. If you have regular access to sun exposure than you should use fish oil, not cod liver oil, as your primary source of omega-3 fats. Ideally it would be best to monitor your vitamin D level.
- Eat according to your metabolic type. This is very much underappreciated as to just how potent an anti-cancer effect this is. When we treat cancer patients in our clinic this is one of the most powerful anti-cancer strategies we have.
- Have a tool to permanently erase the neurological short-circuiting that can activate cancer genes. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is caused by emotions. It is likely that this factor may be more important than all the other physical ones listed here, so make sure this is addressed. Energy psychology seems to be one of the best approaches and my particular favorite tool, as you may know, is Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Only 25 percent of people eat enough vegetables, so by all means eat as many vegetables as you are comfortable with. Ideally they should be fresh and organic. However, please understand that frequently fresh vegetables are healthier than organic ones that are older and wilted in the grocery store and they are certainly better than no vegetables, so don't use that as an excuse. If you are a carb metabolic type you may need up to 300 percent more vegetables than a protein metabolic type.
- Make sure you are not in the two-thirds of the population who are overweight and maintain an ideal body weight.
- Get enough high-quality sleep.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners and air pollution.
- Boil, poach or steam your foods, rather than frying or charbroiling them.