beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

  • Contact BIDMC
  • Maps & Directions
  • Other Locations
  • Careers at BIDMC
  • Smaller Larger

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

Smaller Larger

Rapid Autopsies could Speed Cancer Research

Posted 4/1/2016

Posted in

  This is usually not a favorite topic: autopsies or what happens to our bodies after death. I have been part of many conversations about funeral arrangements and about possibly donating one's body to a medical school, but autopsies rarely come up. When you think about it, that is striking because all of these subjects are related and distressing and, for some of us, being more in control is a good thing. Being in control means thinking about things in advance and doing your best to make plans.

  Some religions discourage autopsies, believing that the body should be returned to the Creator in the same state in which it was made and that a funeral should happen quickly. Some people are just uncomfortable with the whole idea, while others are very anxious to learn anything possible about what went wrong. When someone has died of cancer, there rarely are big surprises that are found during an autopsy, but there is another perspective. Maybe the goal is less trying to understand what killed the person and more trying to learn more about cancer so we can do better in the future.

  This is the perspective behind the push for autopsies that are performed quickly, within hours, of death. The theory is to take out tumor cells before there has been a chance for tissues to change, and to use these cells for further study and research.  Thank you to Betsy for sending along this article from Stat:

Rapid Autopsies could Speed Cancer Research

They are also Fraught for Families

Medical teams have long rushed to save the living. Now, increasingly, they’re rushing to attend to the dead.

A small but fast-growing number of hospitals are embracing procedures known as “rapid autopsies” — conducted in the hours immediately after a patient’s death.

The idea is to obtain tissues from tumors before they start significantly degrading. Using genetic analysis technology, doctors can then determine precisely how cancer cells survived every attempt to kill them.

But the procedures are forcing doctors and patients to overcome their reluctance to discuss death, and family members to confront the idea of parting with loved ones’ bodies shortly after their death — within six hours, optimally.

Read more:


Add your comment