Different labs use their own terminology when delivering biopsy results, but as a general rule, the results can be divided into inconclusive, normal, benign, noncancerous, and cancerous results. Biopsy results can also include a great deal of fancy medical terminology which can be intimidating to the lay person, which is why it is important to go over the results of a biopsy with a doctor to ensure that they are understood.
If test results are “inconclusive,” it means there was not enough material to test, or that something went wrong with the lab testing or the biopsy procedure. The doctor may ask for a repeat of the test, or decide to take a wait and see approach, retesting in a few months, depending on the situation. Normal results are returned when a seemingly suspicious area turns out to be perfectly normal when it is investigated in the lab.
Benign biopsy results indicate that a growth was found, but that the growth is not malignant. When benign results are returned, the pathologist usually informs the doctor about the type of growth involved, as there are numerous types of benign growths found in the body. Noncancerous results indicate that abnormal cell growth is occurring, and it is a cause for concern, but it is not definitively cancer. Nor is it necessarily benign, which means that the site may need to be biopsied again in the future to monitor the growth. A classic example of a noncancerous result is atypical hyperplasia, a formal way of saying “abnormal cell growth.”
In cases where a biopsy reveals the presence of cancer, the biopsy results will include a discussion of the type of cancer, its size, its location, and its margins. The pathologist will also describe the stage of the cancer, referring to how far it has spread. All of this information can be used to develop a treatment plan for the cancer.
The turnaround time on biopsy results can vary. Some hospitals have their own labs with technicians who can examine biopsies quickly and return results in as little as a day. Others rely on work performed by remote labs, in which case the turnaround time will be longer because the material needs to be sent to the lab and examined by pathologists who may have a lot of work to do. When a biopsy is performed, the doctor should be able to provide information about how long the patient will need to wait for results.