WARNING: Are these “harmless” cancer biopsies lethal?!

Yesterday, I talked about how “watchful waiting”—instead of active treatment—often makes the most sense for men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer.  

But there’s one HUGE potential problem with this approach…  

According to a brand-new report, the “harmless” biopsies commonly performed to monitor the disease can cause a dangerous blood infection known as “sepsis”…and even death! 

Fortunately, there’s a much SAFER option available.  

But it’s SO new, many doctors don’t even know about it. (Or perhaps they just don’t know how to perform it yet!)… 

Prostate biopsies linked to sepsis and death 

Each year, about 2 million men in the U.S. undergo what’s called a “transrectal biopsy.”  

For this procedure, a urologist passes a needle through the rectum into the prostate to get a tissue sample to study under a microscope. (The prostate gland lies right against the back of the rectum, inside the lower abdomen, so urologists can access the prostate by sticking needles through the back of the rectal wall.) 

Urologists perform these biopsies on men to diagnose a new prostate cancer. They also perform them somewhat routinely on men already diagnosed with low-risk cancer—as part of the watchful waiting approach.  

Unfortunately, we’re now learning that the procedure itself is anything but low risk. And most men are NEVER warned about it! 

In fact, men who get this procedure run a 1 to 3 percent chance of developing a dangerous blood infection called sepsis. It occurs when microbes (bacteria) from the rectum spread into the bloodstream. And, according to a clinical associate professor of urology at the University of California Irvine, the microbes can eventually spread throughout the body, causing: 

  • Bacterial infection of the heart 
  • Bacterial meningitis 
  • Gangrene (often requiring amputation) 
  • Kidney failure (requiring dialysis) 
  • Spinal cord abscess (infection) 
  • Stroke 
  • Uncontrolled bleeding 

Of course, sepsis can also cause death, particularly when not medically managed correctly—which is all too often the case.  

In fact, according to a recent study in Norway (a country at the forefront of investigating the problem), one in every 1,000 men who receive this biopsy die! So, in the U.S., that translates to about 2,000 men dying each year due to this “simple” and “routine” diagnostic procedure.  

Experts say the death rates will probably continue to climb because of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. (When bacteria are overtreated with antibiotics, they become resistant to their effects.)  

In fact, over the past 25 years, sepsis infections following transrectal biopsies has increased by 400 percent—due to increases in antibiotic resistance.  

Now, let’s move onto the biggest reason WHY you may not have heard about these shocking statistics… 

As the old saying goes, doctors can often bury their mistakes  

We’re just now learning about the deaths related to these dangerous prostate biopsies because doctors often BURY them under misleading causes on death certificates.  

For example, the death certificate may say “sepsis” was the cause of death, with a contributory cause due to a “urinary tract infection”…instead of the actual biopsy, which occurred days before.  

And, since most deaths occur in the hospital, the hospital doctors complete the death certificate instead of a forensic Medical Examiner, who is properly trained (as I was) to accurately track down causes of death in cases that occur outside of the hospital.  

As a result, nobody has really been accurately tracking deaths after transrectal prostate biopsies. (Just another example of the neglect men suffer when it comes to their prostate health and diseases….) 

The good news is, there’s a far safer approach men can and SHOULD ask for by name… 

Insist on learning more about this safer option… 

It’s called a “transperineal” biopsy.  

For this procedure, the urologist places the needle through the skin between the anus and the scrotum. This method avoids sticking the needle through the contaminated rectum and drastically reduces the chances of infection. In fact, the infection rate for this new approach found at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is just 0.5 percent. 

This safer biopsy, which uses a disposable needle, adds $200 to each procedure. But the cost of treating sepsis, which results from the routine kind of prostate biopsy, costs $9,000 to $19,000 per case and totals $342 to $750 million per year. (Plus, those figures don’t even include emergency room trips for rectal bleeding following biopsy!) 

Of course, not many urologists in the country are trained to perform this newer type of biopsy. And it’s so new—some don’t even know about it! 

But if you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer and require a biopsy, you should absolutely insist on finding a doctor who not only knows about it…but can also perform it. (And…the latest news is that researchers outside the U.S. have found that you can safely monitor these men without doing any biopsies at all. And I’ll tell you about that method this coming fall.) 

Lastly, I urge you to learn about how to prevent prostate problems in the first place by checking out the June 2018 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“The big fat reason why so much prostate cancer research is flawed”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one. 


“No more men need to die from transrectal prostate biopsies.” MedPage Today, 4/21/21. (medpagetoday.com/special-reports/apatientsjourney/92201?vpass=1)