Throughout my practice as a radiation oncologist, I have noticed a recurring question that patients ask; “If the surgeon sticks a needle into the tumor or if they expose the tumor to air, will the tumor spread?” The answer to the question is that realistically, the possibility is very low. In 2015, the Mayo Clinic analyzed 250 patients that had biopsies and found no risk of tumors spreading associated with the procedure. They went further and analyzed 2,000 Medicare patients with pancreatic cancer and found no significant difference in cancer spread between those that had a biopsy versus those that did not.
“Can you tell me what radiation therapy is?” my patient, a retired healthcare worker, quickly but quietly asked me as soon as I entered the exam room. I knew before I had even entered the room that she had just been diagnosed with a lung cancer. She was clearly overwhelmed by her diagnosis, and even though she had worked in the healthcare field for decades of her life, she had never come across radiation therapy or even a radiation oncologist.