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.
Reasons for Procedure
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:
Common interpretations of biopsies include:
- Normal tissue, no abnormalities
- Irritated tissue
- Not normal, but difficult to interpret
- Not normal, not cancerous, but a precancerous condition
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Excessive bleeding
- Results that are difficult to interpret
Smoking may increase the risk of complications.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the surgery.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 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.
Description of the Procedure
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
- Aspiration biopsy —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
- Vacuum-assisted biopsy —a number of samples of tissue are taken using a special rotating probe
- Endoscopic biopsy —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
- Incisional biopsy —a portion of a mass is removed by cutting it out
- Excisional biopsy —a mass is completely removed, such as a breast lump
- Punch biopsy —a core of skin is removed with a special biopsy tool
- Skin biopsy —a small piece of skin is cut off with a scalpel
- Shave biopsy —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
How Long Will It Take?
A simple biopsy usually takes a few minutes. A biopsy involving surgery takes longer.
How Much Will It Hurt?
You may have pain in the area where the sample was removed. Ask your doctor about medication to help with the pain.
Average Hospital Stay
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.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the biopsy site
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Pain that you cannot control with the medication you have been given
- New or worsening symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
American College of Surgeons
Biopsy. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/sitemap/modal-alias.cfm?modal=biop. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Schoonjans JM, Brem RF. Fourteen-gauge ultrasonographically guided core-needle biopsy of breast masses. J Ultrasound Med. 2001;20:967-972.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Igor Puzanov, MD; Brian Randall, 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.