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Tissue Banking

 “Tissue banking is what will take us to the next level of cancer treatment and cure.”

- Judy Garber, MD, MPH, physician

Tissue banking is when remaining or extra tissue that has been removed during a medical procedure such as an operation, biopsy, or blood test is collected and stored. This extra tissue, not needed for your diagnosis or treatment, is used by scientists to study disease and find better ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat cancer in the future.

In order to help you decide whether or not you would like to donate your remaining and extra tissue for medical research, view the video Tissue Banking: Advancing Cancer Care or read the accompanying program book. These materials will help you better understand what tissue banking is, why it is important, and ultimately, who benefits from it.

You can also review all of the information in the program book in the Frequently Asked Questions section below.

Learn more through Tissue Banking: Advancing Cancer Care

View video
Ver video en español
Program book (PDF)
Programa de libro en español (PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions

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fold faq What is tissue banking?

Tissue banking is storing remaining human tissue that has been removed during a medical procedure such as an operation, a biopsy, or a blood test. This extra tissue is not needed for your diagnosis or treatment. With your written consent, this tissue is sent to a tissue bank, where it is carefully preserved and protected. Scientists use tissues from these banks to study disease and find better ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat cancer in the future. Tissue donated for medical research is not used in either organ transplantation or blood transfusions.

Human tissue donated for medical research can include:

  • pieces of tumor from the lung, breast, kidneys, or other organs
  • cancerous cells from blood and bone marrow
  • excess normal tissue from organs or blood
  • other fluids from the body

Tissue banking helps scientists better understand what causes cancer, which treatment options are likely to be effective, and how to improve patient care in the years to come.

fold faq Will donating my tissue change my surgery or care?

Patients sometimes ask if their decision to donate tissue will affect their treatment. The answer is no. Regardless of whether you decide to donate your tissue or not, your operation and medical care will be exactly the same. Your decision will not affect how much tissue is removed during surgery, and it will not change the number of visits to your doctor.

Patients who are thinking of donating tissue may also be concerned that the doctor will not have enough tissue for their diagnosis and treatment. That never happens. During your medical procedure, your doctor will remove all the tissue needed for a thorough diagnosis and treatment. A portion of your tissue is not needed for your cancer care. This remaining tissue, which would otherwise be discarded, is sent to the tissue bank.

fold faq Who benefits from tissue banking?

If you donate your tissue for research, you probably will not benefit directly, but others will benefit in the future. Tissue banking helps scientists study the biology of cancer. It helps them answer important questions about why cancer develops, how it grows, and who is at risk. The answers to these questions can lead to earlier, more accurate diagnosis and better treatment. But it takes a long time for scientists to make discoveries from medical research. Just as the discoveries of a decade ago led to current therapies, the knowledge gained from studying human tissue today will advance patient care in the years ahead. When you donate your tissue for research, you are helping the generations of cancer patients to come.

Many different types of research rely on the use of human tissue:

    * Learning how cancer cells work
    * Identifying the causes of cancer
    * Understanding how cancer behaves in different ethnic groups
    * Developing new cancer drugs and diagnostic tests
    * Discovering “markers” that predict who will respond to treatment

For example, by studying thousands of breast tumors, researchers discovered that about 25% carry extra copies of a gene called HER2. This type of breast cancer is known as HER2-positive, and it behaves differently than other breast cancers. After analyzing HER2-positive tumors, scientists were able to develop diagnostic tests, which are now commonly used to find out whether a breast tumor is HER2-positive or not. Knowledge of HER2-positive tumors also enabled scientists to design a drug that slows the growth of tumors and improves survival outcomes for these patients.

fold faq How much personal and medical information should I share?

It is your choice whether or not to donate your tissue to a tissue bank. You also have a choice as to how much or how little information you want to share. For example, you can consent just to having your tissue collected. Or you can consent to sharing some personal information such as your gender, age, racial or ethnic group, and history of smoking. You can also allow access to your medical record. The choice is yours.

Knowing a patient’s age and ethnic group may help researchers understand how these factors affect the risk of getting cancer. And being able to study patients’ tissues in light of their medical histories may tell scientists a lot more about the causes of cancer and how to develop new therapies.

fold faq How will my privacy be protected?

Federal laws and regulations protect the privacy and confidentiality of your medical information. The administrator of the tissue bank must submit a plan explaining how your private information will be protected. A committee at your hospital, known as the Institutional Review Board, or IRB, will review the plan to make sure that it strictly follows these laws and regulations.

The plan must explain what information will be stored in the bank and how it will be kept confidential, how tissues will be collected and linked to confidential information, and how the bank will prevent unauthorized access to its computer files. So the risk of your privacy being violated is very small.

The IRB must also review the plan if the tissue bank intends to send tissue samples to other researchers for study. Before sending out your tissue sample, the tissue bank will code it with a number instead of your name and take out all identifying information, such as your name, address, phone number, and Social Security number. The tissue bank will include only the information that is needed for the researcher to perform the study.

Before tissue banks and other researchers can use your tissue for study, they must obtain your written consent. This informed consent form explains:

  • How your tissue will be collected and used in research
  • How your medical information will be stored
  • What information will be provided to researchers
  • How to contact the tissue bank administrator if you would like to withdraw your consent for future research

By signing the informed consent form, you indicate that you understand the information explained to you and are willing to donate tissue for research purposes.

fold faq What are the financial implications of tissue donation?

There is no charge to you or to your insurance company for donating your tissue. At the same time, you will not be paid a fee for your tissue or for any of the discoveries that might result from research using your tissue.

fold faq What if I change my mind after donating tissue?

You can change your mind at any time about allowing your tissue to be used in future research. The consent form explains how to contact the tissue bank. If you wish to withdraw your consent for all research or change the amount of personal information you are willing to share, tell the administrator. If some of your tissue has already been sent out, however, the tissue bank cannot get it back, and you cannot withdraw your permission for the research done on those particular tissue samples.

fold faq Will I get the results of research using my tissue?

Tissue banks and other researchers will not report to you the results of any research using your donated tissue. Research studies take many years and require tissue samples from hundreds or thousands of people. The results are published in scientific journals.

fold faq Will research results be shared with my employer or health insurance provider?

Results of research using your tissue will not be put in your medical record and will not be released to your employer, health insurance provider, or anyone else.

fold faq Will research using my donated tissue contribute to my medical care?

The results of research using tissue samples will not affect your care right now. If your cancer comes back in the future, however, new treatment options may be available.

fold faq How do I decide whether or not to donate tissue?

Talk it over with your doctor or nurse. Or discuss this booklet with your family and friends. For additional information, see the resources listed in the learn more section below.

Learn More

For additional information about tissue banking:

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
1-800-4-CANCER (422-6237)
TTY: 1-800-332-8615

Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research (NCI)
Email: biospecimens@mail.nih.gov

To request a copy of this program:

Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center
Clinical Trials Education Office
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
44 Binney Street
Boston, MA 02115