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A biopsy is a procedure that takes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body for testing. A healthcare provider can use the test results to help diagnose diseases or conditions, such as cancer. There are many different kinds of biopsies. The type of biopsy performed will depend on the location or site of the sample. During a biopsy, a doctor will remove a very small sample of tissue or fluid from the body. They will send the removed sample to a laboratory for testing.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy [by-op-see] is a procedure that takes a sample of tissue or fluid, or a growth of cells from your body. Your healthcare provider sends this sample to a laboratory to be tested and uses the test results to help diagnose a condition or disease. Biopsies are used to test for cancer, to diagnose other disorders, or to see if you are a match for an organ transplant.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Biopsies are usually safe procedures. However, there are potential risks and side effects, including:

  • Pain. Pain will usually be minor. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience severe pain after your biopsy.
  • Infection. Sometimes the biopsy site can become infected. Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any redness, swelling, or drainage at the biopsy site, or if you develop a fever after the biopsy. These symptoms can be signs of infection.
  • Excessive bleeding. Because the biopsy test only cuts a small part of your skin, there usually is not excessive bleeding. Contact your healthcare provider if the wound keeps bleeding or does not heal.
  • Allergic reactions. Sometimes the antibiotic, numbing gel, or bandages used in the biopsy removal can cause an allergic reaction on your skin. Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice redness or itching at the biopsy site.

What are the benefits?

A biopsy will not cure a disease or disorder, but it can help your healthcare provider diagnose problems. If you are diagnosed with a disease like cancer, your provider can examine the test results to decide on the best treatment for you.

How do I prepare?

Before your biopsy, tell your healthcare provider:

  • If you are pregnant or allergic to latex.
  • What medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines.
  • What vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you are taking.

Depending on the type of biopsy, your healthcare provider may tell you to take additional steps before your procedure. Be sure to follow all instructions.

How is it done or administered?

During a biopsy procedure, your healthcare provider takes a small sample of tissue or liquid from a part of your body. To perform this procedure, your healthcare provider will:

  • Place you in a position that is comfortable and allows access to the part of your body that is being biopsied.
  • Sterilize the skin over the area being biopsied and apply a numbing gel so that the procedure will not hurt.

The type of biopsy depends on the condition and the biopsy site. Common biopsies include:

  • Endoscopic biopsy. An endoscope is a small, flexible tube that can be easily inserted into the body without large cuts (incisions). It allows doctors to see inside the body using a light and video camera. The doctor uses small surgical tools on the endoscope to perform the biopsy. 
  • Needle biopsy. Special needles remove samples of tissue or cells through the skin. Needle biopsies are one of the most common biopsy methods. Compared to a surgical biopsy, a needle biopsy may be faster, less expensive, and have fewer complications.
  • Skin biopsy. A sample of skin is removed and tested. 
  • Surgical biopsy. Requires cutting through the skin to reach the tissue sample. In some cases, only a small sample is removed (incisional biopsy). In others, a lump or tumor is completely removed (excisional biopsy). Surgical biopsies may require special preparation. Follow all instructions from your doctor.

After the doctor has taken the sample, they will do the following:

  • Close the wound with stitches (if needed) to help it heal faster.
  • Protect the wound with bandages to prevent infection and aid healing.
  • Send your biopsy sample to a medical laboratory for testing.

When will I know the results?

You will receive your results in 2 – 10 days, depending on the sample and tests.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Your provider may tell you the results of your biopsy tests over the phone, or they may contact you to schedule a follow-up appointment. Depending on your test results, your provider may recommend follow-up treatments. For example, people diagnosed with cancer may need surgery or chemotherapy.

If your healthcare provider sutured (stitched) your biopsy site, they may ask you to come in for a follow-up appointment to remove the stitches. This is usually 7-10 days after the biopsy.

What should I expect during recovery?

After the procedure, your healthcare provider may advise you to take the following steps to help the biopsy site heal and prevent infection:

  • Protect the biopsy site with bandages and dressing for 24-48 hours.
  • Keep the biopsy site clean to prevent infection.
  • Cover the biopsy site at night to minimize the risk of infection.