Biopsy for ovarian cancer

You may have a biopsy to help diagnose cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum. A doctor removes a small sample from the lump or abnormal area.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is when doctors remove a small piece of tissue or a sample of cells from an area of the body. These are then sent to be checked under a microscope. This is how doctors find out whether an abnormal area or lump (tumour) is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). 

Doctors also use the sample to get more information about the type of cell the cancer started from. 

When is a biopsy done?

If your first treatment is surgery, you will have biopsies taken during the operation. If your doctor thinks you need chemotherapy first, you usually have a biopsy before you start.  

If your ultrasound scan or blood tests results are not typical of ovarian cancer, you may have a biopsy first. This is so your doctor can be certain of the diagnosis before surgery. 

The biopsy is looked at under a microscope to check for cancer cells. The results of your biopsy also tell your doctor about the type and grade of the cancer.

How is an ovarian biopsy done?

Image-guided fine needle biopsy

A doctor (radiologist) or nurse numbs your skin using a local anaesthetic injection. They may also give you a sedative to help you relax. 

The doctor passes a fine needle through the skin, using a CT or ultrasound scan to guide them to the right place. 

They remove a small sample of tissue or cells from the abnormal area with the needle. 

Sometimes they take a biopsy through the vagina, using an ultrasound scan to guide them to the area. 

You usually stay in hospital for a few hours after this procedure. But sometimes you need to stay overnight.

Surgery to take biopsies

Laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) biopsy

laparoscopy is done under a general anaesthetic. The surgeon makes 3 or 4 small cuts about 1cm long in your lower tummy area. They put a thin tube called a laparoscope through one of the cuts. This has a tiny camera on the end. It allows the surgeon to examine the area carefully and take biopsies.

You can usually go home the same day after a laparoscopy. 

Laparotomy

Sometimes you have an operation called a laparotomy to get a biopsy. The surgeon uses 1 larger cut to open the tummy and look inside. If they find a cancer, they may remove it. This is only done if you and your doctor have discussed it and you have agreed (consented) to it before the operation.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Ledermann, Raja, Fotopoulou et al. Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2013; Volume 24, Supplement 6. Updated online 2020. Available from www.esmo.org/guidelines (accessed July 2021)

    Management of epithelial ovarian cancer. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN). Nov 2013 revised 2018. Available from www.sign.ac.uk

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

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