Health Information




Tissue sampling

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

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • 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 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, Coumadin (warfarin), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

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

  • How the Test will Feel

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

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

  • Why the Test is Performed

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

  • Normal Results

    The tissue removed is normal.

  • 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.

  • Risks of a biopsy include:

    • Bleeding
    • Infection
  • Considerations

    There are many different types of biopsies, such as:

    • Abdominal wall fat pad biopsy
    • Biopsy of the biliary tract
    • Bladder biopsy
    • Bone lesion biopsy
    • Bone marrow biopsy
    • Breast biopsy
    • Carpal tunnel biopsy
    • Chorionic villus biopsy
    • Cold cone biopsy
    • Colposcopy-directed biopsy
    • Endometrial biopsy
    • Gum biopsy
    • Liver biopsy
    • Lung needle biopsy
    • Lymph node biopsy
    • Mediastinoscopy with biopsy
    • Muscle biopsy
    • Myocardial biopsy
    • Nasal mucosal biopsy
    • Nerve biopsy
    • Open lung biopsy
    • Open pleural biopsy
    • Oropharynx lesion biopsy
    • Pleural needle biopsy
    • Polyp biopsy
    • Rectal biopsy
    • Renal biopsy
    • Salivary gland biopsy
    • Skin lesion biopsy
    • Skinny-needle biopsy
    • Synovial biopsy
    • Testicular biopsy
    • Tongue biopsy
    • Upper airway biopsy
    • Ureteral retrograde brush biopsy cytology

Related Information



American College of Radiology (ACR), the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), and the Society for Pediatric Radiology. ACR-SIR-SPR Practice Parameter for the Performance of Image-Guided Percutaneous Needle Biopsy (PNB). Amended 2014 (Resolution 39). Available at: www.acr.org/~/media/1D9E3F3270CF44F8A2E994C94F2F0FAC.pdf. Accessed October 25, 2014.

Desai SB, Lewandowski RJ, Nemcek AA Jr. Percutaneous biopsy. In: Mauro MA, Murphy KPJ, Thomson KR, Venbrux AC, Morgan RA, eds. Image-Guided Interventions. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 126.


Review Date: 10/25/2014  

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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