Ovarian biopsy

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Ruchi Garg, MD, Chair, Gynecologic Oncology, City of Hope Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix

This page was reviewed on November 23, 2021.

An ovarian biopsy is a type of screening used to confirm whether you have ovarian cancer.

During a biopsy, doctors take a tissue sample from an area of the body. Then, a type of doctor called a pathologist will examine it for the presence of cancer. With ovarian cancer, a biopsy is usually performed at the same time that the tumor is removed.

A biopsy for ovarian cancer frequently takes place during a laparotomy or laparoscopy, which is a type of surgery that involves opening the abdomen to look at the organs there. The tumor can be removed from the ovary and tissue can be taken from the surrounding organs to determine whether cancer has spread. A laparotomy also allows your care team to stage the cancer.

Sometimes, if a person has advanced cancer or a condition that limits surgery, doctors will perform an ovarian biopsy with a type of procedure called a laparoscopy. This is done with a camera placed through the abdomen to retrieve tumor sample.

Doctors may ask a radiologist to do image-guided biopsy if they are concerned that the cancer has spread and requires chemotherapy prior to surgical management.

Another type of biopsy called paracentesis can be done if there are ascites, or fluid buildup inside of the abdomen. During paracentesis, a member of your care team will numb a part of the abdomen and use a needle to go through the abdominal wall. The fluid that is collected in the syringe will be analyzed for cancer.

An ovarian biopsy is used along with other screening methods, including:

How to prepare for an ovarian biopsy

Because an ovarian biopsy is often done during a surgery such as laparoscopy or laparotomy, your care team will do several things to help prepare you. This will include completing a physical examination and running tests to make sure you’re ready for surgery. Your care team also will ask you what medications you use. Make sure to mention vitamins, herbs and natural supplements in addition to regular medications.

Below are other steps to help you prepare for an ovarian biopsy.

  • Your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain types of medications in advance, to help reduce your risk of bleeding during surgery. These may include aspirin, ibuprofen and blood thinners such as warfarin.
  • Find out what medications you can still use the day of your surgery. If you must take any medications, do so with just a small sip of water.
  • Follow instructions about when to stop eating and drinking on the day of surgery.

You will receive anesthesia so you’re asleep during the procedure.

During a laparotomy, a surgeon will make a long cut in the abdomen. Next, the surgeon will remove the ovarian tumor (or as much of the tumor as possible) and nearby tissue samples from the pelvic area and abdomen to test them for spread of the cancer.  During a laparoscopy, a surgeon will make several small thumb nail size cuts on the abdomen and use those to assess and remove the ovarian tissue.

A pathologist will examine the tumor and the tissue samples in a laboratory.

After such surgeries, most people are able to eat and drink normally in two to three days, but a full recovery can take up to four to six weeks.

Benefits and risks of an ovarian biopsy

The benefit of having an ovarian biopsy is that you will find out more information about the tumor. If you have ovarian cancer, the biopsy can help determine the stage.

However, as with any type of surgery, there are some risks associated with a surgery and the use of anesthesia. These include:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to abdominal organs
  • Infections
  • Incisional hernia (tissue that forms around a scar from surgery)

Reviewing the results of an ovarian biopsy

Your doctor will use the results from an ovarian biopsy and other screenings to confirm a cancer diagnosis. If it’s cancer, the results will also help to stage the disease and plan your treatment. During your follow-up discussion with the doctor, ask any questions that you may have. If possible, bring along a friend or family member to help ask questions or take notes.

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