A biopsy is a procedure in which small samples of tissue are removed from the body. The tissue is examined under a microscope. A biopsy may be done to determine the cause (diagnosis) of a condition or mass (tumor). A biopsy may also be done to determine the best treatment for you. In some instances, a biopsy may be performed on normal tissue to determine if cancer has spread or if a transplanted organ is being rejected. There are 2 ways to obtain samples:

  • Fine needle biopsy. Samples are removed using a thin needle inserted through the skin.

  • Open biopsy. Samples are removed after a cut (incision) is made through the skin.


  • Allergies to food or medicine.

  • Medicines taken, including vitamins, herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medicines, and creams.

  • Use of steroids (by mouth or creams).

  • Previous problems with anesthetics or numbing medicines.

  • History of bleeding problems or blood clots.

  • Previous surgery.

  • Other health problems, including diabetes and kidney problems.

  • Possibility of pregnancy, if this applies.


  • Bleeding from the biopsy site. The risk of bleeding is higher if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking any blood thinning medicines (anticoagulants).

  • Infection.

  • Injury to organs or structures near the biopsy site.

  • Chronic pain at the biopsy site. This is defined as pain that lasts for more than 3 months.

  • Very rarely, a second biopsy may be required if not enough tissue was collected during the first biopsy.


Ask your caregiver what time you need to arrive for your procedure. Ask your caregiver whether you need to stop eating or drinking (fast) before your procedure. Ask your caregiver about changing or stopping your regular medicines. A blood sample may be done to determine your blood clotting time. Medicine may be given to help you relax (sedative).


During a fine needle biopsy, you will be awake during the procedure. You will be positioned to allow the best possible access to the biopsy site. Let your caregiver know if the position is not comfortable. The biopsy site will be cleaned. A needle is inserted through your skin. You may feel mild discomfort during this procedure. The needle is withdrawn once tissue samples have been removed. Pressure may be applied to the biopsy site to reduce swelling and to ensure that bleeding has stopped. The samples will be sent to be examined.

During an open biopsy, you may be given medicine that numbs the area (local anesthetic) or medicine that makes you sleep (general anesthetic). An incision is made through the skin. A tissue sample or the entire mass is removed. The sample or mass will be sent to be examined. Sometimes, the sample or mass may be examined during the procedure. If the sample or mass contains cancer cells, further tissue or structures may be removed. The incision is then closed with stitches (sutures) or skin glue (adhesive).


Your recovery will be assessed and monitored. If there are no problems, you should be able to go home shortly after the procedure (outpatient). You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home if you received a sedative or pain relieving medicine during the procedure. Ask when your test results will be ready. Make sure you get your test results.