Overview: There is some confusion over whether cancer biopsies can actually cause cancer. While there is some evidence of it being a possibility, studies have shown that the benefits outweigh the risks. In addition, the low fatality rates of prostate cancer lower the risks even further.
Can a Prostate Biopsy Cause Cancer?
There’s some concern among doctors about a phenomenon called “tumor seeding” that might occur after a biopsy. Tumors are sampled using a spring-loaded needle fired into the tumor, and when the needle removes a sample of issue, it leaves a space.
The theory is that cancerous cells might break off from the tumor and fall through the channel into healthy tissue. The cells might then “seed” a new tumor. This is true of a biopsy anywhere in the body, including the prostate.
Prostate Biopsies and Cancer
The idea of tumor seeding was first spread by a former urologist, Ronald Wheeler, who wrote a book claiming biopsies were a high-risk procedure that should be stopped. Wheeler was later arrested on fraud charges related to misdiagnosing prostate cancer.
Despite this, as “do no harm” is the first principle of medicine, the prospect of tumor seeding caused by biopsies has been examined extensively across multiple cancers. Currently, the research points to tumor seeding being incredibly rare, with either no evidence or extremely low incidence.
In that scenario, the procedure itself is considered low risk compared to the benefits. That said, however, the overall risks from prostate cancer often recommend against biopsy.
Overdiagnosis and Prostate Cancer
Up to 12% of men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives, and the odds of a diagnosis rise as men age. However, just 2.5% of men will die from prostate cancer. Many men diagnosed with prostate cancer will never face any serious risk from their diagnosis.
As a result, many doctors are increasingly taking a “wait-and-see” approach towards prostate cancer. Especially in older patients where there are other medical concerns that need to be treated, a provider may prioritize that over a relatively benign aliment.
In addition, prostate biopsy is an invasive procedure. While it’s relatively low-risk, it’s still a surgical procedure with attendant risk of infection or injury. And while the vast majority of biopsies go well with no complications, patients will still experience soreness, bleeding from the biopsied area, and the discomfort and expense of a medical procedure.
For older patients, doctors are likely to weigh these risks against the need for treatment. As a result, they frequently recommend against biopsy.
Should I Get A Prostate Biopsy?
Your doctor will likely recommend less-invasive tests first, such as a digital rectal exam (DRE), where the doctor examines the prostate for lumps or hardness that may indicate advanced cancer. They may order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, although these are less reliable, and pair the results of the two tests.
If these tests are indicative of some sort of cancer, then a doctor will discuss options with you, which may include a biopsy.
For More Information
To learn more about prostate cancer and its potential impacts on your health, follow the eDrugstore blog.
For more information about the prostate and its care, read our Users Guide to the Prostate.
If you struggle with erectile dysfunction or ED after prostate surgery, check out our medication guide of the ED medications we carry, or call 1-800-467-5146 to speak to a U.S.-licensed physician who can help you choose the right medication for you. Virtual health visits and shipping are always free.
Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies “beyond the headlines,” reading the study to more closely examine the results.