A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or cells. The sample is examined under a microscope.
A biopsy may be taken from any part of the body.
A biopsy is used to see if the cells from a sample of tissue are abnormal. A biopsy is done to rule out cancer and/or to specify its type and level of aggressiveness.
Biopsies are sometimes taken to find out the cause of an unexplained: InfectionSwellingGrowth
Common interpretations of biopsies include: Normal tissue, no abnormalitiesIrritated tissueNot normal, but difficult to interpretNot normal, not cancerous, but a precancerous conditionCancerInconclusive
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, 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 surgery.
Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
Avoid eating or drinking after midnight if you are going to have general anesthesia.
The type of anesthesia used depends on what you are having biopsied: General anesthesia
is given through an IV to block pain and keep you asleep through the procedure.
Local anesthesia is given as an injection to numb the area being operated on.
For a simple biopsy, the area will be cleaned. A numbing medication will be injected into the area so that you will not feel pain. A piece of tissue will then be removed. The opening may need to be closed.
The procedure that your doctor uses will depend on the type of biopsy that you are having. For example: Needle biopsy
—cells are removed using a thin needle
—cells are drawn out with a hollow needle that uses suction
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
—the area is viewed with a long, thin tube that has a lighted camera on one end; a tool is passed through the tube to take the biopsy sample
—a portion of a mass is removed by cutting it out
—a mass is completely removed, such as a breast lump
—a core of skin is removed with a special biopsy 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 is inserted into the bone marrow to collect cells
Bone Marrow Biopsy
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A simple biopsy usually takes a few minutes. A biopsy involving surgery takes longer.
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.
Be sure to follow your doctor's
instructions on wound care to avoid infection.
If you have stitches, have them removed when instructed.
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.
Schoonjans JM, Brem RF. Fourteen-gauge ultrasonographically guided core-needle biopsy of breast masses.
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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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