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Biopsy

Tissue sampling

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Definition

A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue for laboratory examination.

How the Test is Performed

There are several different types of biopsies.

A needle biopsy is called a percutaneous biopsy. It removes tissue using a needle attached to a hollow tube called a syringe. The needle is passed several times through the tissue being examined. The doctor uses the needle to remove the tissue sample. Needle biopsies are often done using CT scan or ultrasound. These imaging tools help guide the doctor to the right area.

An open biopsy is surgery that uses local or general anesthesia. This means you are relaxed (sedated) or asleep and pain-free during the procedure. It is done in a hospital operating room. The surgeon makes a cut into the affected area, and the tissue is removed.

A laparoscopic biopsy uses much smaller surgical cuts than open biopsy. A camera-like instrument (laparoscope) and tools can be inserted. The laparoscope helps guide the surgeon to the right place to take the sample.

How the Test will Feel

In a needle biopsy, you may feel a small sharp pinch at the site of the biopsy. Local anesthesia is injected to lessen the pain.

In an open or laparoscopic biopsy, general anesthesia is often used so that you will be pain-free.

How to Prepare for the Test

Before scheduling the biopsy, tell your health care provider about any medicines you are taking, including herbs and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some for a while, particularly those that can make you bleed. Such medicines include aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and NSAIDs.

DO NOT stop or change your medicines without first talking to your provider.

Normal Results

The tissue removed is normal.

Risks

Risks of a biopsy include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal biopsy means that the tissue or cells have an unusual structure, shape, size, or condition.

This may mean you have a disease, such as cancer, but it depends on your biopsy.

Why the Test is Performed

A biopsy is most often done to examine tissue for disease.

Review Date: 9/17/2016
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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