What is Biopsy?

By  , Expert Content
Dec 07, 2012

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What is Biopsy

Biopsy is an invasive medical procedure in which sample of a tissue is removed from the body for examination. The tissue is examined by a pathologist (a doctor, who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and tissues under a microscope) under a microscope. This can help to diagnose the underlying pathology or disease. As the sample is analysed under a microscope, very small samples are needed.


[Read: Why is Biopsy done?]


Why Are Biopsies Done?

Biopsies are done to diagnose underlying disease. After examination of tissue sample, the doctor may call an area of abnormal tissue a lesion, a tumour or a mass. In most cases, biopsy is done to look for cancer. A biopsy is usually done to confirm a diagnosis if non-invasive tests, such as MRI, X-ray or CT scan are inconclusive or if there is an important medical question the biopsy could help answer, such as:

  • if a mammogram shows a lump or mass, it can help to confirm if the lesion is breast cancer
  • if a mole on the skin has changed in shape, size or colour recently, biopsy can confirm if it has turned cancerous
  • in chronic hepatitis, it can help to know if cirrhosis is present
  • after transplant, it can help to know if there is rejection of the transplanted organ.

Biopsy is a useful test to diagnose a problem and help decide on the best therapy option.

Types of Biopsies


[Read: Tips to prepare for Biopsy]


Biopsy can be done in many different ways, however, in most types of biopsies, a sharp tool is used to remove a small amount of tissue. If biopsy is expected to cause pain, a numbing medicine (anaesthesia) is applied first.

Some types of biopsies that are done include the following.

  • Needle biopsy: A fine or a thick needle is used to access the suspicious tissue. A needle biopsy is useful to take sample of a tissue from breast or organs, such as the liver or kidneys.
  • CT-guided biopsy: when the biopsy is done under CT- guidance, the images produced while scanning help the doctor to determine the exact position of the needle in the targeted tissue.
  • Ultrasound-guided biopsy: It is like CT-guided biopsy in which an ultrasound scanner helps to determine the exact position of the needle in the lesion.
  • Bone biopsy: It is done to look for cancer of the bones. It may be done under CT- guidance by an orthopaedic surgeon.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: A thick needle is used to take bone marrow (a soft, jelly-like tissue that's found in the hollow centre of all large bones) from pelvic bone. It is useful to diagnose blood diseases, such as leukaemia or lymphoma.
  • Skin biopsy: Punch biopsy is most often performed to diagnose diseases of the skin, such as deep spots and sores. In this type of biopsy, a special surgical instrument is used to make a small hole in your skin and sample of tissue is taken from the top layers of skin.
  • Surgical biopsy: When open or laparoscopic surgery is done, a sample of tissue may be taken for pathological examination.

What Happens After the Biopsy?


[Read: Follow-up after Biopsy]


After sample of tissue is taken by biopsy, it is preserved and delivered to a pathologist. A pathologist is a doctor, who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and other tissue samples under a microscope or by other tests. The time taken for the biopsy results to come can vary. When a surgical biopsy is done, the pathologist may read a biopsy and report back to surgeon within a few minutes. The final biopsy report may come after a week or longer. Your doctor will discuss the result of biopsy on follow-up and then recommend appropriate treatment.


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