Do biopsies cause cancer to spread? No, that's not necessarily true: They are not a significant cause of metastasis (the spread of cancer from one area of the body to another). For one, doctors take care to ensure that cancer cells are not spread via biopsies. Further, a study has found that patients who undergo biopsies tend to live longer.
The claim was made in a Facebook post (archived here) published by United4Truth.com on March 4, 2020, under the title, "CANCER HOAX". It read:
CANCER HOAXNeedle biopsies, for example.People need to understand that a tumour is there to save your life. When your body is full with poison, toxaemic and acidosis and you are basically going to die of that poison - your body builds a bag and collects all the poison from your body into this bag, which they call a tumour. So the body did all the work. And now they come and they say "We need to do a needle biopsy." and pinch into this highly toxic tumour; which of course now explodes and pours all the poison into the body. And then they say "You have a very fast growing, very aggressive form of cancer.". They GAVE it to you. They created it.And most cancers disappear on their own anyway, because about 7-10 times, everybody has cancer in their lifetime. If you don't become unlucky enough to fall into the hands of a medical professional and get a test done and they tell you that you have something bad going on; and the very next day, can start murdering you with chemotherapy, which is based on mustard gas. Mustard gas is forbidden after the Geneva Convention as a war chemical; they put it into your bloodstream and radiate you to death. Or cut you surgically - which always spreads the cancer." - Dr. Leonard Coldwell"Cancer is not an illness - cancer is a symptom. These cancerous growths, the cell growths, whatever it might be, that we don't want in our body, is a symptom; it is not the cancer. So cutting the symptom out does not resolve your problem, at all. And that's why it reappears. Or why they kill the entire body with chemotherapy for two years. Now, anything shrinks. Your organs shrink, the brain shrinks - and the tumour shrinks. Because they dehydrate the body. So now, at the same rate at your organs are shrinking, your tumour is shrinking. Now they say "It's working. The tumour is shrinking.". It's one of the biggest frauds ever." - Dr. Leonard Coldwell#ThisIsTheTruth #KillingCancerNotPeople
Users on Facebook saw this:
The claim that a cancer is actually a bag of toxins and that attempting to biopsy or remove a tumor releases these toxins, poisoning the rest of the body, is neither a new claim nor a true one.
"These claims are inconsistent with everything that scientists have learned about cancer," according to Dr. Ted Gansler, strategic director, pathology research, at the American Cancer Society, in an email to Lead Stories. "A tumor is the result of the growth and spread of abnormal cells. Scientists and medical doctors have examined millions of cancers under microscopes and observed these abnormal cells. Scientists have also studied DNA, RNA, and other chemicals in cancer cells and in normal cells and have carefully compared the differences. The claim that tumors are 'a bag of toxins' literally has zero basis in reality. It is made up."
Gansler also rejected the post's claim that needle biopsies "explode" the bag "and pours all the poison into the body."
But, he noted, "Scientists have found a few situations that indeed require extra care not to spread cancer cells along the needle path of a biopsy. For example, when surgeons take biopsies of most bone and connective tissue tumors, they plan carefully to insert the needle through an area that can later be removed during an operation to remove the cancer. In this way, if some cancer cells spread along the needle path, they can be removed during the operation."
Fine needle aspiration is a minimally invasive technique that uses a thin and hollow needle to extract a few cells from a tumor mass. A long-held belief by a number of patients - and even some physicians - has been that a biopsy can cause some cancer cells to spread.
The value of biopsies was underscored in a 2015 study published in the journal Gut and carried out at the Mayo Clinic.
The researchers studied more than 2,000 patients who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent fine needle aspiration - a diagnostic technique used across tumor types - and found that patients who received a biopsy survived longer than patients who did not have a biopsy.
"This study shows that physicians and patients should feel reassured that a biopsy is very safe," said Dr Michael Wallace, a professor of medicine and the study's senior investigator. "We do millions of biopsies of cancer a year in the U.S., but one or two case studies have led to this common myth that biopsies spread cancer."
Biopsies offer "very valuable information that allow us to tailor treatment," he said. "In some cases, we can offer chemotherapy and radiation before surgery for a better outcome and, in other cases, we can avoid surgery and other therapy altogether."
The Facebook claims are not the only far-fetched ones made by the source cited in the post, Leonard Coldwell, who is said to practice pseudo-science and entertain and spread conspiracy theories. Here's an example: "In my personal opinion and experience, nearly every cancer can be cured within two to 16 weeks," he said in a YouTube posting on May 18, 2013.
"To believe these claims, one has to believe that doctors would be willing to sacrifice the lives of their families to protect this alleged conspiracy," said ACS's Gansler. "If this meme was true, wouldn't doctors try to save the lives of the ones they love (or their own) by following the advice of this meme?"
A diagnosis of cancer is a very unfortunate occurrence. We are fortunate to benefit from the work of real scientists who have learned a lot about the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer; developments that have lowered the death rate for cancer 29% since the early 1990s. Much remains to be learned; cancer is still a source of enormous suffering. Adding to that suffering by making misleading claims spread through social media only adds to that pain.