A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue or a sample of cells so it can be examined under a microscope. It is the only certain way of telling if an abnormal area or lump is a cancer or not.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue or a sample of cells so it can be examined under a microscope. It is the only certain way of telling if an abnormal area or lump is a cancer or not.

As well as helping to diagnose pancreatic cancer, a biopsy may give your doctors information about the grade and the type of pancreatic cancer. Different tests can be done on the cells that give more information and help the doctors plan the best treatment.

Having a biopsy for pancreatic cancer

A biopsy for pancreatic cancer can be taken in different ways.

The doctor may take a biopsy during an:

These tests use a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to look at the pancreas from inside the small bowel.

Through the skin

You may have a biopsy taken using a needle through the skin of your tummy. This is called a percutaneous biopsy or fine needle aspirate (FNA). The doctor injects a local anaesthetic into the skin to numb the area first. They then guide the needle through the skin and into the tumour. This is to take (aspirate) a sample of cells. They are able to guide the needle using images from an ultrasound or CT scan.

During surgery to look inside the tummy

You may have a biopsy taken during a laparoscopy. This is a small operation that allows doctors to look at the pancreas and other organs in the tummy. 

The doctor will send the sample of cells to a laboratory to test for cancer. To help make an accurate diagnosis, they sometimes repeat the biopsy.

About our information

  • References

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

    British Society of Gastroenterology. Guidelines for the management of patients with pancreatic cancer peri-ampullary and ampullary carcinomas. 2005.

    European Society for Medial Oncology. Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2015. 26 (Supplement 5): v56 to v68.

    Fernandez-del Castillo. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging of exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Jan 2018.

    Fernandez-del Castillo C, et al. Supportive care of the patient with locally advanced or metastatic exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Feb 2017. 

    Winter JM, et al. Cancer of the pancreas, DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2016.


  • 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 Senior 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.

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