Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Biopsy for adrenal cancer

Biopsy for adrenal cancer

Tissue samples (biopsies) of adrenal tumors are generally not taken before surgery. This is particularly the case with adrenocortical carcinoma, as a needle biopsy of this type of adrenal cancer can spread tumor cells. More often, doctors determine the likelihood that an adrenal tumor is cancerous based on the tumor’s size and features, as depicted in various diagnostic imaging tests.

If doctors determine from the imaging tests that a tumor is present in the adrenal glands and that tumors exist outside of the glands, a biopsy may be taken from the area to which disease appears to have spread. For example, if a mass appears in the liver, doctors may obtain a biopsy of it through a fine needle. The biopsy is then analyzed in a laboratory to determine if it contains adrenal cells. If cells from the adrenal glands are present in the liver biopsy, an adrenal cancer diagnosis can be confirmed.

What is a biopsy?

During a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body. A pathologist inspects the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. 

Some biopsies are performed endoscopically, others under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the radiology suite. In some cases, biopsies are performed in the operating suite. This allows your doctor to collect cells from deeper inside the body. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you will receive an anesthetic to reduce discomfort.

Compared with other diagnostic tests for cancer, biopsies often provide a more definitive diagnosis. A biopsy may help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy sample, or if it started somewhere else in the body.

Some sites that are commonly biopsied include the breast, skin, bone marrow, GI tract, lung, liver, bladder, colon and lymph nodes. Our doctors determine the most appropriate method of biopsy based on several factors, such as the size, shape, location, and characteristics of the abnormality.

Biopsy medical animation