We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
JAMA Patient Page |

Frozen Section Biopsy FREE

Erin Brender, MD, Writer; Alison Burke, MA, Illustrator; Richard M. Glass, MD, Editor
JAMA. 2005;294(24):3200. doi:10.1001/jama.294.24.3200.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Biopsies are small samples of tissue taken from a mass or tumor that are examined under a microscope to make a diagnosis. Biopsies are used most often to determine whether cancer cells are present, although certain infections and other diseases can be diagnosed as well. A specific type of biopsy procedure called the frozen section was developed in order to make a rapid diagnosis of a mass during surgery. The December 28, 2005, issue of JAMA includes an article about the origins of the frozen section technique.


During the frozen section procedure, the surgeon removes a portion of the tissue mass. This biopsy is then given to a pathologist (a doctor who examines tissues and uses laboratory tests to make a diagnosis). The pathologist freezes the tissue in a cryostat machine, cuts it with a microtome, and then stains it with various dyes so that it can be examined under the microscope. The procedure usually takes only minutes.


  • If more tissue is needed to make an accurate diagnosis, the surgeon is able to obtain an additional sample, avoiding a second operation.

  • If the tissue is determined to be cancerous and is amenable to surgery, the mass can be removed at that time.

  • If the tissue is determined to be benign (not cancerous), then the mass may not always need to be removed and the surgery can end.

  • The frozen section biopsy can help ensure that the mass being removed is the intended tissue for removal.

  • It can help ensure that the entire mass and its surrounding borders are removed.

  • It allows for the collection of proper tissue samples for further scientific research.

  • The surgeon and pathologist are able to collaborate to care for the patient.

Sometimes pathologists are not able to determine the diagnosis based on the frozen section and instead must rely on the permanent section. In this procedure the tissue is not frozen but instead is placed in a fixative solution, embedded in wax, thinly cut, and then stained. Although this takes longer than a frozen section (usually 1 day), the permanent section leads to better-quality microscope slides. All biopsies are limited by the sample taken. Cancer or other diseases may be so small that they are not present in the tissue sample but may still be present elsewhere. Multiple biopsies may be needed to make a diagnosis.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish.

Source: Jacobs DS, DeMott WR, Oxley DK. Jacobs and DeMott Laboratory Test Handbook. 5th ed. Hudson, Ohio: Lexi-Comp Inc; 2001

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.




Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

0 Citations

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Original Article: Does This Patient Have Temporal Arteritis?

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis