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Frequently asked question by Patients

" What is a biobank?

Biobanking is when surplus or extra tissue taken during a medical procedure, such as an operation, biopsy or blood test is collected and stored for use in research. This extra material, not needed for diagnosis or treatment, is analysed by scientists to find better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer in the future.

Tissue donated for medical research can include:

  • Pieces of tumour from lung, breast, prostate or other organs

  • Cancerous cells from blood and bone marrow

  • Excess normal tissue from organs or blood

  • Other fluids from the body, such as urine.


Along with the extra tissue the biobank also collects information about the patient and their diagnosis

" Why do we need biobanks?

Biobanks help 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 answer to these questions are vital and can lead to earlier, more accurate diagnosis and better treatment.

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 cultural groups

  • Developing new cancer drugs and diagnostic tests

  • Discovering ‘markers’ that predict who will respond to treatment

" What’s Involved?

We aim to ask all patients who attend Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, with a confirmed or possible diagnosis of cancer, if they would agree (consent) for the biobank to store surplus, or left-over, tissue removed at surgery.  We would also like a small blood sample and sometimes a urine or saliva sample.


For some cancers, where drug treatment is given very quickly after diagnosis, we may also ask for an extra fragment of tissue to be taken at the same time as the pieces taken for diagnosis. This means that we can compare tissue from before and after drug treatment.

Very occasionally we may seek consent from a patient to undergo a biopsy procedure to take a small amount of tissue specifically for the biobank.


" What types of sample are banked?

Wherever possible we combine the collection of research tissue and blood with usual clinical activities. So, when blood is taken for routine blood tests, we would take just a little more while the needle is still in place. We will also ask you if we can use any tissue that is left-over from your operation and not needed for diagnostic reasons. Sometimes we may ask you if we can take some extra tissue at the same time that some is taken for diagnostic reasons.

" What data are collected?

To carry out research using your sample, we need to know a little about you and the type of disease you have. We can obtain all the information needed from your medical records but need your permission to look at these.

" Will the researcher know who I am or try to contact me?

The biobank will only give your tissue sample or data to a researcher in a ‘pseudo-anonymised format’. This means that the biobank removes any information that can personally identify you, such as your name, address or NHS number before any information is given a researcher.

" Does my surgeon/nurse know about the biobank?

Absolutely, the health professionals involved in your care know about biobanking and are a crucial part of the biobanking team.

" What happens if I don’t want my tissue or data to be used for research?

If you prefer not to donate tissue, blood or information for research purposes, then we will not question this. Your medical treatment will continue as arranged with your consultant. 

" What happens if I change my mind after giving consent to use my tissue or data for research?

If, for any reason you change your mind having already given consent to biobanking, we have a specified procedure to identify and destroy any tissue, blood or information we might have stored.

" Will I benefit from donating tissue and data to the biobank?

There is no financial reward for donating your tissue and data. It is also unlikely that you personally will benefit from the research done using your tissue. This is because it takes many years to develop new research information into a useful tool that can be used to help with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. However, you will be helping someone diagnosed with cancer in the future.

Have any other question or suggestion?

Please do get in-touch! 

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