What Are the Dangers of a Prostate Biopsy?

Updated February 21, 2017

The debate as to whether prostate biopsies are necessary has been raging for decades, but only recently has there been any evidence that there might be some dangerous side effects from having a prostate biopsy. In "The New England Journal of Medicine," Drs. Fritz Schroder and Ries Krause said that not only do less than a quarter of prostate biopsies even detect cancer, but often the needle misses the cancer entirely, or worse, the needle causes the spread of cancer cells or an infection such as septicaemia.

Cancer Spread

Prostate cancer usually does not spread to other parts of the body. However, the tiniest hole in the area surrounding a prostate tumour can release cancer cells into the bloodstream. If the release is small, the body's own immune system might destroy them. In other cases, however, the cancer may metastasise. Such holes are created when a needle is inserted into the tissue of a mass in the prostate. If it is a cancerous tumour, chances are the action of the needle released cancer cells.


Septicaemia is a leading cause of death in America, after heart disease and cancer. It affects more than 37,000 people per year, and the numbers are increasing. The disease arises when an infection in the bloodstream triggers the body's immune system to attack healthy parts of the body in an attempt to get to the infected parts of the blood. Septicaemia often occurs after routine operations or biopsies, including prostate biopsies.

Other Complications

According to a study done at the Mayo Clinic, 14 per cent of patients who had a prostate biopsy suffered from a potentially severe complication, which included developing painful and serious infections, blood in the semen, an inability to urinate and blood exiting out of the rectum. All of the patients required further treatment. In fact, both the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the National Cancer Institute are against routine prostate testing because they believe such tests increase the chance of a risky biopsy.

Other Diagnostic Tests

According to the Mayo Clinic, one in six men will get prostate cancer, and out of that group, only 10 per cent will have a dangerous or life-threatening form of cancer. In addition, these cancers can be identified in other ways, including MRIs and tomography scans. In fact, scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University's Cancer Institute and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center have developed such a system of diagnosis.

No Survival Benefit

In a controlled study, scientists from the Department of Veterans Affairs found that there are no survival benefits for early diagnosis of prostate cancer. Those who had cancers that were caught early by a biopsy did not survive any longer that those whose cancers were not diagnosed early.

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