A biopsy is the removal of a small area of tissue. The sample is then looked at under a microscope to see if there are any abnormal cells.
A biopsy may be taken from any part of the body.
A biopsy may be done to look for the cause of unexplained: InfectionSwellingGrowth
It may be done as part of the diagnosis or to find out more details about a condition. For example, a biopsy may be done to determine if cancer is present. It may also show what type of cancer it is and how it may react to certain treatments.
Biopsies are not for cancer alone. There are a number of other medical conditions are diagnosed with a biopsy such as: Celiac diseasePsoriasisChronic kidney disease
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review problems that may happen, like: Excessive bleedingPainInfectionScarringResults that are difficult to interpret
may increase the risk of complications.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may be asked to stop taking some medications before the procedure.
Avoid eating or drinking after midnight if you are going to have general anesthesia.
The type of anesthesia needed will depend on what tissue you are having removed. Options include: General anesthesia—given through an IV to block pain and keep you asleep through the biopsy.
Local anesthesia—will numb the area where the tissue is used. More common for skin biopsy.
The exact steps will depend on the type of biopsy that you are having. For example: Needle biopsy—a thin needle is injected into an area to remove cells.
—a hollow needle uses suction to remove cells.
Core needle biopsy
—a sample of tissue is removed using a hollow core needle that has a special cutting edge.
—a number of samples of tissue are taken using a special rotating probe.Endoscopic biopsy
—a long, thin tube is passed to the area. Tools can pass through the tube to remove tissue.
—a portion of a growth is cut out.
—a growth is completely removed, such as a breast lump.
—a sample with multiple layers of skin is removed with a special tool.
—a small piece of skin is cut off with a scalpel.
—top layers of skin are shaved off with a special blade.
Bone marrow biopsy
—a long needle passes into bone to collect marrow cells.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
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A simple biopsy will usually only takes a few minutes. A biopsy involving surgery takes longer. It may also be part of a larger surgery.
You may have pain in the area where the sample was removed. Ask your doctor about medication to help with the pain.
You will be able to go home after a simple biopsy. If your biopsy involved surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days.
Recovery will depend on how much tissue was removed and where it is located. It may take 2-10 days for the results of the biopsy. Your doctor will discuss the results with you. Some results include : Normal tissue, no abnormalitiesIrritated tissueNot normal, but difficult to interpretNot normal, not cancerous, but a precancerous conditionCancerInconclusive
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as: Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the biopsy siteSigns of infection, including fever and chillsPain that you cannot control with the medication you have been givenNew or worsening symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Biopsy. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/submenu.cfm?pg=biop. Accessed February 24, 2015.
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Last reviewed March 2016 by Donald Buck, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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