Together we will beat cancer


What do biopsy results really mean?

13 Apr 2018 14:00

I had 1 scan and 2 biopsies that came back as suspicious of thyroid cancer. What does this result mean? It's likely to be or they just don't know? It's 5cm and solid been there a while apparently. Its being removed quickly but just don't fully understand the results 

Re: What do biopsy results really mean?

16 Apr 2018 09:42 in response to GemgemJK

Hello and thanks for posting,

I am sorry to learn about what is going on.

A suspicious result from a fine needle cytology biopsy means that cancer is suspected but a more definite diagnosis can’t be made. I don’t know what the precise likelihood of cancer is, it may be more common than not, but it certainly isn’t a forgone conclusion.

It must be hard not knowing, but there is no way around it at the moment. The tissue they plan to remove at surgery will be sent away for a different sort of analysis (histopathology) in the labs. So you will get some answers later. 

Give us a call if you want a chat on 0808 800 4040, we are here Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. 

I hope things go well.

Best wishes,


Re: What do biopsy results really mean?

17 Apr 2018 15:58 in response to CRUK Nurse Julia

Thank you Julia for the reply. I am seeing my surgeon soon and then should have a date. How long does it take to have the results usually post surgery to see if it is cancerous and what it is? 


Thank you 

Re: What do biopsy results really mean?

18 Apr 2018 11:52 in response to GemgemJK

Hello Gemgem

Thank you for your further posting.

It can take a week or two to get results but it can sometimes be sooner than this. Hopefully your specialist will be able to tell you more soon.

Kind regards,


Re: What do biopsy results really mean?

18 Apr 2018 12:11 in response to GemgemJK

Hi GemgemJK.

Most of the time, a pathologist can look at some cells under the microscope, and can then compare them with the known features of normal and cancer cells, and come to a conclusion that the cells are normal, or cancerous.

But sometimes things might be uncertain. The cells might look almost normal but still have sufficient features to ring an alarm bell in the pathologist's mind that they just don't look right. If the pathologist can't find enough features to grade the cells one way or the other, then they have to be called "suspicious". It's frustrating for everyone when this happens, but the pathologist can only report what he or she sees under the microscope. 

When this happens it's frustrating for everybody. 

If I can give you a personal example. Just over 7 years ago I had a prostate biopsy which came back with a positive cancer diagnosis.  The cells were graded 3+4.  Now, a low risk cancer would be 3+3, so a 3+4 is a little more than low risk and probably something that needed treating rather than leaving alone.  So, a while later I had my prostate out and the removed organ was re-examined.  This time, the cancer was downgraded to 3+3, not the 3+4 from the biopsy. I'm told that this happens in around 20% of cases.  Now, I'll never know why the cancer was 3+4 at biopsy, and 3+3 after removal, but it's a reminder that biopsy is not an exact science.