What to Expect When You Have Been Referred For A Biopsy

female doctor looking at microscopeYour dentist is often your first line of defense against oral cancer. If your dentist has referred you to our office for a biopsy, it is because they have seen or felt something unusual in your mouth. A biopsy can rule out cancer or confirm it.

Don’t Panic; Most Lesions are Benign!

It is normal to worry when you hear the word “biopsy,” but there is no reason to panic. Dentists and physicians have a duty to protect your health, and a biopsy helps them do this. Although most lesions are benign, a biopsy can rule out cancer in any situation where there is uncertainty. Even if your dentist or doctor is confident the lesion in your mouth is not cancer, they will suggest a biopsy. Erring on the side of caution protects you in the rare event that a lesion is cancerous. Over 80% of oral biopsies are negative.

What is an Oral Biopsy?

An oral biopsy determines whether certain abnormal cells on the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat are cancerous. At your biopsy appointment, we will examine your mouth, lips, and throat, then remove some tissue from the affected area to be tested at a pathology lab. The test results are then sent to our office and forwarded to your dentist for review.

Types of Oral Biopsy

Not all biopsies are the same. The procedure you undergo depends on several factors, including the type of lesion or lump, size, and location. All oral biopsies are outpatient procedures.

Incisional Biopsy

During an incisional biopsy, your oral surgeon cuts out a portion of tissue for testing. Most incisional biopsies can be done in our office under local anesthesia ,or local anesthesia and nitrous oxide analgesia (laughing gas). If you prefer to have general anesthesia, we can take care of it in-office as well.

Excision of Lesion

In some cases, an excision of the involved area is warranted, cutting out the lesion and some of the healthy tissue around it. After an excisional biopsy, stitches close the site. You will experience some tenderness and bleeding following the excision.

Fine-Needle Aspiration

This is usually reserved for suspicious lumps or bumps on the neck. Your doctor inserts a fine needle into the area to withdraw cells or fluid from the lump after numbing the area. The cells or fluid are sent to a pathology lab for testing.

The Oral Biopsy Procedure

There is no preparation needed for an oral biopsy. Your oral surgeon will numb the area with an injection before removing any tissue. The injection may pinch or sting for a moment, but the anesthetic will completely numb the area. After the procedure, you can return home.

The biopsy site may be sore for a few days. Tylenol, together with an anti-inflammatory medication such as Aleve or Advil can help minimize your discomfort.

It can take up to two weeks to get oral biopsy results. Although it may be difficult, try not to stress while waiting. A longer waiting time does not mean the results are a concern. Reviewing and interpreting the results of a biopsy takes time and skill. A pathologist reviews the results carefully and double-checks everything to ensure nothing is missed. We will set up a follow up appointment two weeks after the procedure to check healing of the area and go over the results.

Why Did Your Dentist or Doctor Recommend a Biopsy?

Any abnormality in the mouth, throat, or on the lips could indicate oral cancer. However, it is not always the case. When a biopsy is recommended, it is often to rule out cancer rather than confirm it. If you have any of the following symptoms, a biopsy is recommended:

  • Reddish or whitish patches in the mouth
  • An oral or lip sore that does not heal or bleeds easily
  • Thickening of the lining of the mouth
  • A lump or bump inside the mouth or on the gums
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Chronic hoarseness

If you have any of the above symptoms, particularly if you use tobacco, are a heavy drinker, or have had cancer in the past, an oral biopsy is the most effective way to rule out or confirm cancer.

We understand your worries and are always available at 813-968-5400 to answer any questions you may have about your oral biopsy.