Waiting for the biopsy result is as stressful as being told you have cancer

Doctors should realize the stress that patients undergo while waiting for test results.

Surgeon Jeffrey Parks discusses a recent study examining the issue, showing that a woman’s “stress hormone levels were just as high during the waiting period as levels determined in women who were told the biopsy was positive for cancer.”

A needle breast biopsy should not take longer than two days for a result, although it make take longer for lumpectomies or axillary node dissections. In any case, patients are often waiting anxiously by the phone for news, and doctors do a significant disservice if they sit on the results.

From a patient’s standpoint, I would not hesitate to ask when results should be expected, and if that deadline passes, calling your doctor to follow-up on the test.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Rositta

    Not as stressful as waiting for a cancer test result but…I’ve been waiting for 4 weeks with one more to go to find out if I will be able to have retinal surgery to remove scarring. My blood pressure definitely suffering. I know it’s not the same but blindness scares me…ciao

  • Jennifer

    i waited a week for my needle biopsy results, i was only 22 years old and low risk for breast cancer, but the wait was pretty stressful.

  • Anonymous

    Waiting for results is mental torture. Thankfully, my oncologist knows that and when Pathology claimed they didn’t have my results when I went in for follow-up 10 days after my surgery, she stripped the bark off them and got my results. (Her own mother had died of cancer so she knew what it was like to wait for results.) Turns out they had my results, but merely hadn’t had time to type them up.

  • Anonymous

    It is very very stressful. My mother has cancer, and waiting for both the first test when she was diagnosed and all subsequent (and future, I’d imagine) tests was terrible.

    Even if the probability is extremely low, you still imagine the worst. A couple of years ago I had a suspicious mole. Turned out nothing, but I was really really scared.

    Even after routine doctor visit when your doctors calls you and instead of the usual all OK, leaves you a message to call the office, you are worried. Especially if this call comes on Friday, is left on your home answering machine, you get it in the evening and have a whole weekend until you can call the office.

    I have a friend who had cervical cancer (she was a refugee from another country, then uninsured, haven’t had pap smears; and when she got insurance it was too late). She was treated successfully with chemo and radiation. After one of her follow up tests some couple of years later, a nurse called her on Friday and left a message on her home answering machine to call back. When she got the message in the evening, she called back, but there was nobody there. An office employee said – “why do you worry? with your diagnosis you know that anything can happen, so why bother worrying?”. So the whole weekend this woman thought her cancer came back. On Monday she found out that everything is still fine.

    I wish doctors were thinking about it. Is it really that necessary to call on somebody’s home phone number on Friday afternoon and leave a message that you can be sure will not be received until there is no place to call back to. By just waiting until Monday, you’ll not ruin somebody’s weekend and maybe keep somebody’s blood pressure normal.

Most Popular