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Definition

A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or cells. A doctor will examine the sample 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:

  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Growth

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
  • Cancer
  • Inconclusive

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • 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 one week before the procedure such as:

  • Aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Blood thinners, such as warfarin
  • Anti-platelets, such as clopidogrel

Avoid eating or drinking after midnight if you are going to have general anesthesia.

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
Bone Biopsy pelvis
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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.

Post-procedure Care

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .

  • Take pain medication as directed by your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor when you should change the bandages.
  • Ask your doctor when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • If you have stitches, have them removed when instructed.

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 medical help right away.

Revision Information

  • American Cancer Society

    http://www.cancer.org

  • American College of Surgeons

    http://www.facs.org/patienteducation/index.html

  • Canadian Cancer Society

    http://cancer.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Biopsy. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/sitemap/modal-alias.cfm?modal=biop . Accessed May 21, 2013.

  • Schoonjans JM, Brem RF. Fourteen-gauge ultrasonographically guided core-needle biopsy of breast masses. J Ultrasound Med . 2001;20:967-972.

  • What you need to know about cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cancer/page6 . Published October 4, 2006. Accessed May 21, 2013.

  • 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.