A biopsy is a procedure performed to remove tissue or cells from the body for examination under a microscope. A biopsy can help your doctor diagnose and treat your illness. There are multiple kinds of biopsies.

A needle biopsy is done when the tissue sample is obtained by use of a syringe. A needle is passed into the tissue to be biopsied and cells are removed through the needle. Depending on the location of the tissue to be biopsied, needle biopsies are often performed with CT guidance (link to general CT descriptor) or CT (link to ultrasound guided procedures). This type of biopsy can sometimes be done instead of a major surgical biopsy.

In an open biopsy, an incision is made in the skin, the organ is exposed and a tissue sample is taken. If the tissue to be sampled is in the abdomen and cannot be safely accessed with a needle or closed procedure, an open biopsy must be performed in the operating room.

A closed biopsy involves a much smaller incision than open biopsy. The small incision is made to allow insertion of a visualization device, which can help guide the physician to the right place to take the sample.

A breast biopsy in which the radiologist is guided by ultrasound provides a very accurate way to evaluate a mass. X-ray guided biopsy is also a good way to evaluate a small mass that may not show up on an ultrasound.

Preparation for the procedure

Be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home. You should not drive until the day after the procedure. Depending on the site of the biopsy you should not plan on flying on the same day.

Check with your doctor before the procedure about stopping medications that can contribute to bleeding such as aspirin, Coumadin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs).

Mention any herbal preparations you are taking. Never change your medication regimen without first checking with your doctor.

If an abdominal CT scan is to be done, you may be given a drink containing X-ray dye. If intravenous dye is necessary and you have an allergy to it you will be given medication to counteract the effects of this material before the procedure.

Sometimes routine blood work must be completed two weeks before the biopsy. Sometimes blood work will be required weeks before your appointment. However, it may be done on the day of your appointment.

Antibiotics may be given

The entire biopsy procedure from beginning to end takes about eight hours although the actual biopsy takes about 40 minutes. Most biopsies are done on an outpatient basis.

For a more in depth look at this procedure, visit our Health Library page on this topic.