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How Your Doctor Uses Biopsies to Diagnose Stomach Cancer

To tell for sure if you have cancer, your doctor needs to remove tissue, fluid, or both from your stomach. This is called a biopsy. It is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer.

What to expect during a stomach biopsy

You can have the biopsy done in your doctor’s office. You won’t need to be asleep. First, the doctor sprays your throat with medicine that numbs the area. This is called a local anesthetic. It reduces discomfort and keeps you from gagging. The doctor may also give you medication to help you relax during the procedure.

While you are lying down, the doctor places a long, flexible, lighted instrument called an endoscope in your mouth. He or she then guides the endoscope down your esophagus and into your stomach.  

If the doctor finds any abnormal areas, he or she will remove some of the tissue through the endoscope. These removed samples are the biopsies. Your doctor may take several samples from different parts of your stomach. Tissue samples are small, cylinder-shaped sections. The whole process usually takes about 15 minutes. 

What the results mean

Once the biopsy is done, a specialist called a pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. It usually takes a few days for the results of your biopsy to come back. Generally, once the results come back, your doctor will know if you have stomach cancer. If so, the biopsy usually shows what type of stomach cancer it is.

At this point, your doctor may order more tests. These tests help determine the stage, which is the degree of spread, of the cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/15/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.