{The risk of the spread of cancer along the path of the needle (needle track seeding) during a biopsy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is approximately 2.7%. These results were recently published in the journal Gut.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions, including the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin and detoxification of numerous substances. Primary liver cancer starts in the cells of the liver and can spread, through blood or lymph vessels, to different parts of the body. Approximately 85% of all liver cancers that start in the liver (primary liver cancer) are classified as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Biopsies are often used to determine if HCC truly exists. A needle biopsy is a certain type of biopsy in which a needle is inserted into the liver at the site of the suspicious area. Cells from the area are drawn into the syringe and then evaluated in the laboratory for the presence of cancer. Since the needle comes into contact with other tissues as it leaves the liver and exits the body, there has been question as to whether the cancer cells on the needle from a biopsy may be associated with a spread of cancer.

Researchers from the United Kingdom recently conducted a clinical study to identify the true incidence of needle track seeding among patients undergoing a needle biopsy for suspected HCC. This study included a review of data from eight studies that had published results prior to March 2007. Overall, the incidence of needle track seeding was 2.7%. These results will help to establish the true risk of needle track seeding among patients undergoing a biopsy for HCC.

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All patients who are to undergo a biopsy for HCC should speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of undergoing a needle biopsy or the participation in a clinical trial evaluating novel biopsy methods. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and eCancerTrials.com.

Reference: Silva M, Hegab B, Hyde C, et al. Needle track seeding following biopsy of liver lesions in the diagnosis of hepatocellular cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gut. 2008;57:1592-1596.