Biopsy is a word that is thrown around a lot in medicine. There is an old adage in medicine that says, “If it’s important enough to remove then it’s important enough to biopsy.”
We like to do biopsies of anything abnormal ... tumors, skin, intestines, organs and basically anything on the body we would like to know more about. Taking a biopsy is always somewhat invasive, since we are removing a piece of tissue and sending it to a pathologist. The degree of invasiveness depends on the location of the biopsy. Obviously biopsying the skin is a whole lot easier than taking a biopsy of the kidney.
What exactly are we doing when we take a biopsy and who exactly are we sending it to? When we do a biopsy we surgically remove either a piece of something (skin or intestine or a tumor we can’t fully remove) or an entire object (a whole organ such as spleen or a completely removable mass) and we send it to a pathologist. Typically, this procedure may require some sedation or anesthesia, but for skin biopsies we are usually able to numb the area around our biopsy sight and complete the procedure with the pet fully awake.
A pathologist is a veterinarian who has dedicated his or her career to the diagnosis of disease via the evaluation of abnormal (or normal) tissue. The pathologist will take very thin, one cell layer thick, samples of our submission, stain them with special dyes and look at them under a microscope. It is in this microscopic world that a pathologist can find diseases, cancer, or normal tissue. A pathologist is an expert on what normal cells should look like, and he or she also knows what disease does to these cells. By looking under the microscope, the pathologist can tell us what is really going on.
While blood work will often hint at disease and point us in the right direction, a biopsy report will almost always give us the final answer and is often covered by your dog insurance or cat insurance plan. Biopsies give us definitive diagnoses, and with a definitive diagnosis we are able to provide the most accurate treatments.