Getting the results of a biopsy can be an anxiety-provoking time. You may be wondering if your doctor will actually give you the results over the phone or if you’ll need to come into the office to discuss them in person. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect.
In most cases, doctors will not give biopsy results over the phone. They prefer to have the patient come into the office to discuss biopsy results in person. This allows the doctor to explain the results, discuss next steps, and answer any questions the patient may have.
Why Doctors Usually Don’t Give Results Over the Phone
There are a few key reasons why doctors usually don’t give biopsy results over the phone:
- Biopsy results can be complex – The doctor will want to sit down with you and go through the pathology report in detail. They can explain what the results mean and make sure you understand them fully.
- Delivering bad news – If the results indicate cancer or another serious condition, doctors prefer to deliver this kind of difficult news to you in person.
- Answering questions – They will want to be able to answer any questions you might have after hearing the results.
- Discussing treatment – If treatment is needed, the doctor will want to talk through your options and get your input on next steps.
By discussing your results in person, your doctor can be sure that you fully comprehend the information, that all of your questions are answered, and that you know what the next steps will be if further treatment or testing is needed.
When Results May Be Given Over the Phone
In some cases, your doctor might call you with biopsy results if:
- The results are definitively normal – If the biopsy finds absolutely no abnormalities, some doctors may call ahead to let you know the good news.
- You are unavailable for an office visit – If you are traveling or live far away from the doctor’s office, they may opt to call you if an in-person visit isn’t possible.
- You specifically request a phone call – If you are extremely anxious about waiting for results, you can let your doctor know you would prefer a phone call.
However, even in these scenarios the doctor will likely recommend you follow up for an in-office visit as soon as possible, so they can go over the full pathology report with you and make sure you don’t have any outstanding questions.
Tips for Getting Your Biopsy Results
Here are some tips as you wait for your biopsy results:
- Know how you’ll receive results – Ask your doctor up front how you will receive your results – over the phone, via a patient portal, or in person at your next visit.
- Note when you should expect results – Make sure you know approximately when results should be available, so you know when to expect the call or appointment.
- Call if you haven’t heard – Follow up with a call to your doctor’s office if you haven’t received results within two weeks of your biopsy.
- Consider bringing someone for support – Having a trusted loved one accompany you to your results appointment can provide moral support.
- Write down questions – Make a list of questions ahead of time so you don’t forget anything you want to ask the doctor.
- Take notes during your visit – Write down the key points or ask if you can record the discussion to review later.
Waiting for biopsy results can make patients feel anxious and uncertain. While the majority of doctors will ask you to come in to discuss results in person, some patients do prefer getting results over the phone. Talk to your physician ahead of time about how you will receive your results. And don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a preference for how you would like to be notified.
Understanding Your Pathology Report
When you meet with your doctor to discuss biopsy results, they will review the pathology report with you. This report is prepared by a pathologist who examines the biopsy tissue that was removed from your body. As the report can contain complex medical terms and information, here are some tips for understanding your pathology report discussion:
- Ask questions – Don’t be afraid to speak up during your appointment and ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.
- Take notes – Writing down main points or key terms can help you review the information later.
- Ask for printed copies – Request printed copies of your pathology report and any other lab results to study at home.
- Discuss main points – Have your doctor highlight the most important findings and summarize the key takeaways.
- Bring someone along – Having a trusted friend or family member at your appointment allows them to also listen and understand your diagnosis and next steps.
Don’t assume you’ll remember all the details from your pathology report review at your appointment. Use the strategies above to ensure you fully comprehend this critical information about your biopsy results and next steps.
Key Components of a Pathology Report
While the details will vary depending on the type of biopsy done, here are some of the main components typically found in a pathology report:
- Patient information – Your name, date of birth, and other identifiers.
- Clinical information – Details about your medical history, biopsy site, and reason biopsy was performed.
- Macroscopic description – What the tissue sample looked like to the naked eye.
- Microscopic description – What the sample looked like under a microscope.
- Diagnosis – The pathologist’s interpretation of the findings and diagnosis.
- Summary and recommendations – Concluding summary and suggestions for any further treatment or testing.
Having an idea of what the pathology report may cover can help you better understand the terminology and contents during your results discussion.
Questions to Ask About Your Biopsy Results
When meeting with your doctor to discuss biopsy findings, it can be easy to forget key questions, especially when you’re nervous about your results. Here are some important questions to ask:
- What type of tissue or cells were biopsied?
- Exactly where in my body was the biopsy taken from?
- What were the biopsy findings?
- Is the biopsy definitively normal or abnormal?
- If abnormal, what specific diagnosis does the biopsy indicate?
- What stage is the disease, if cancer was diagnosed?
- Do I need any additional tests or imaging now?
- What are my treatment options based on this biopsy result?
- Is this a curable or treatable condition?
- What is the prognosis – short-term and long-term outlook?
- How urgently do I need to start treatment?
- Do you recommend getting a second opinion?
- Can you explain this pathology report to me in layman’s terms?
Don’t hold back from asking any other questions you may have after hearing your biopsy results. It may help to have a loved one at your appointment to also ask questions you may not think of in the moment.
Next Steps After Receiving Biopsy Results
Once you’ve received and discussed your biopsy findings with your doctor, here are some next steps to take:
- Get copies of your records – Request copies of the pathology report, lab results, and any imaging tests. You’ll want these for your records and to provide other healthcare providers.
- Talk to your doctor about treatment – If the biopsy detected cancer or another condition requiring treatment, discuss your options and get input on developing an optimal treatment plan.
- Get a second opinion – For serious diagnoses like cancer, it can be helpful to get another physician’s perspective on your case and proposed treatment approach.
- Ask about clinical trials – If considering experimental treatments, ask your doctor if there are any related clinical trials you may qualify for.
- Consult any new specialists – Your doctor may refer you to oncologists, surgeons, or other specialists for aspects of your care. Make appointments promptly.
- Connect with support groups – Speaking with those who have faced a similar diagnosis can provide invaluable emotional support and advice.
Don’t hesitate to lean on your healthcare team after receiving difficult biopsy results. Your doctors and nurses can guide you through understanding your diagnosis, considering your options, and taking any next steps in treatment, follow-up, or clinical trials.
Coping With an Abnormal Biopsy Result
Learning you have a serious medical condition identified by biopsy can be frightening and emotionally difficult to handle. Here are some tips for coping:
- Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise – Shock, anger, sadness, and fear are all normal. Don’t “bottle up” how you feel.
- Join a support group – Connecting with others facing the same diagnosis can ease isolation and provide inspiration.
- Confide in loved ones – Share your feelings with family and friends who can offer unconditional support.
- Take care of your body – Stay hydrated, eat nutritious meals, rest, and do relaxing activities.
- Limit social media – Comparing yourself to others online usually exacerbates stress and anxiety.
- Write in a journal – Expressing emotions on paper sometimes helpsProcessing them.
- Focus on what you can control – Rather than ruminating on the uncontrollable, focus your energy on diet, physical activity, and sleeping well.
- Consider counseling – Speaking with a therapist or counselor can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Be patient and gentle with yourself after hearing difficult biopsy results. Making your mental and emotional health a priority is just as important as your medical care.
Will I Need More Biopsies After an Abnormal Result?
If your biopsy detects cancerous cells or another condition, your doctor may recommend additional biopsies to determine the extent of the problem. Reasons for further biopsies may include:
- Staging the cancer – Determining how advanced the cancer is often requires biopsying multiple sites or lymph nodes to see how far it has spread.
- Mapping the cancer – Some cancers are heterogenous, so multiple biopsies of different areas can “map out” how widespread the cancerous cells are.
- Treatment monitoring – Follow-up biopsies during or after treatment assess how well the cancer is responding to the prescribed regimen.
- Recurrence monitoring – After cancer treatment, periodic biopsies can detect whether any new tumors or growths are emerging.
Additional biopsies provide valuable information to your cancer care team about the disease trajectory and how aggressively it should be treated. Though it may involve more procedures, having a thorough understanding of your cancer ultimately helps develop the most effective treatment plan.
Types of Follow-Up Cancer Biopsies
Some common types of biopsies used to further evaluate an initial cancer diagnosis include:
- Incisional biopsy – Removes only a portion of the suspicious area to test it for cancer.
- Excisional biopsy – Extracts the entire abnormal growth or lump to test it.
- Needle biopsy – Using a needle to extract cells or fluid from lumps or lymph nodes.
- Bone marrow biopsy – Extracting bone marrow, usually from the hip, to look for cancerous cells.
- Lymph node biopsy – Removing lymph nodes to determine whether cancer has spread to the lymphatic system.
Discuss with your oncologist which follow-up biopsy methods are medically indicated to gain more data about your specific cancer situation.
When Are Biopsy Results Urgent?
Most biopsy results do not require immediate or urgent action. However, there are some situations in which biopsy findings demand prompt attention and rapid treatment planning:
- Melanoma – If a skin biopsy reveals melanoma, quick action is needed to remove cancerous cells before they spread.
- High grade cancers – Fast-growing cancers like high grade brain, lung, or ovarian tumors require urgent treatment.
- Sarcomas – Cancers of connective tissues (fat, muscle, bone, cartilage) can advance quickly if not treated.
- Vascular tumors – Cancers requiring immediate embolization or removal to prevent excessive bleeding.
- Infection risks – Cancers impairing immunity and at immediate risk for serious infection require rapid care.
- Blocked organs – Obstruction of vital organs by cancer requires emergency symptom management.
While most biopsy results warrant timely but not emergency care, for the aggressive cancers above, prompt intervention and treatment is vital. Work closely with your doctor for optimal care planning and coordination.
False Negative Biopsy Results
In rare cases, a biopsy may fail to detect cancer or other abnormal cells that are present. This is called a false negative result. Reasons this can occur include:
- The biopsy missed the tumor – Cancers can be heterogenous, so a biopsy may extract only normal tissue rather than abnormal areas.
- Incorrect biopsy site – Human error or imaging limitations can lead to sampling the wrong location.
- The sample was inadequate – Too few cells were extracted to make a definitive diagnosis.
- Wrong analysis – Human error by the pathologist or lab technicians can lead to a mistaken analysis.
- Undetectable micrometastasis – Tiny metastases or scattered cells can be missed by biopsy.
If your symptoms or imaging results do not align with a negative biopsy, be sure to communicate this to your doctor, as a repeat biopsy may be warranted. Catching a false negative result quickly limits harm from delay in cancer detection and treatment.
Next Steps with a False Negative Biopsy
If a false negative biopsy is suspected:
- Review imaging – Comparison of biopsy location with suspicious areas on imaging may reveal a mismatch.
- Request special stains – Additional stains can detect anomalies the original pathology exam missed.
- Repeat biopsy – Taking a new sample, perhaps using a larger needle, can provide more definitive results.
- Biopsy lymph nodes – Sampling fluid or tissue from lymph nodes near the original biopsy site.
- Consider surgery – If repeated biopsies are inconclusive, surgical removal of the suspicious mass may be warranted both for diagnosis and treatment.
Stay in contact with your medical team if you have ongoing suspicions related to a negative biopsy. Early detection and treatment is key with conditions like cancer.
Talk to Your Doctor
Only your own physician has the full context of your medical history and can advise you on personal biopsy results. While it’s not typical to get biopsy results over the phone, some doctors may make exceptions depending on the circumstances. Don’t hesitate to share your preferences with your physician. With sensitive communication and collaboration, you can determine the ideal way to receive your biopsy findings.