To biopsy or not to biopsy

Which of the following do you think is correct?

(a) A biopsy of the lesion was performed.
(b) The lesion was biopsied.
Photo: Biopsy closeup by James Read CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, from Flickr

In general, we prefer to avoid nominalizations, i.e. using a noun when a verb with the same meaning is available. For example, rather than writing “we performed an analysis of 192 lymph nodes” it is considered better to write “we analyzed 192 lymph nodes”.

Is “the lesion was biopsied” then preferred over “a biopsy of the lesion was performed”?

According to the AMA Manual of Style 9th edition, it is not. The manual states that the word biopsy should not be used as a verb, and that (a) is therefore correct, while (b) is considered incorrect.

But wait, you may say, the 9th edition is not the latest version of the AMA Manual of Style. Shouldn’t we consult the latest edition?

Indeed. The 11th and currently latest edition of the AMA Manual of Style states that the use of biopsy as a verb was previously considered to be incorrect, but that such use has become common and acceptable. Both (a) and (b) are now therefore considered acceptable! This change was implemented in the 10th edition.

Language changes over time. The language of medicine is no exception. The spoken language changes faster than the written language, which is more formal and therefore more conservative. Changes in spoken (medical) English are at first often considered inappropriate in formal written (medical) English, but if enough people continue using the new form for long enough, it may eventually become so common that it becomes acceptable even in the written language.

It will be interesting to see what the next edition of the AMA Manual of Style says about the verb “to biopsy”. Who knows, “the lesion was biopsied” may even become the preferred form!