A biopsy is the removal of a small area of tissue. The sample is then looked at under a microscope to see if there are any abnormal cells.

A biopsy may be taken from any part of the body.

Reasons for Procedure    TOP

A biopsy may be done to look for the cause of unexplained:

  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Growth

It may be done as part of the diagnosis or to find out more details about a condition. For example, a biopsy may be done to determine if cancer is present. It may also show what type of cancer it is and how it may react to certain treatments.

Biopsies are not for cancer alone. There are a number of other medical conditions that are diagnosed with a biopsy such as:

Possible Complications    TOP

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review problems that may happen, like:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Results that are difficult to interpret

Smoking may increase the risk of complications.

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may be asked to stop taking some medications before the procedure.

Avoid eating or drinking after midnight if you are going to have general anesthesia.


The type of anesthesia needed will depend on what tissue you are having removed. Options include:

  • General anesthesia—given through an IV to block pain and keep you asleep through the biopsy.
  • Local anesthesia—will numb the area where the tissue is used. More common for skin biopsy.

Description of the Procedure    TOP

The exact steps will depend on the type of biopsy that you are having. For example:

  • Needle biopsy —a thin needle is injected into an area to remove cells.
  • Aspiration biopsy —a hollow needle uses suction to remove cells.
  • Core needle biopsy —a sample of tissue is removed using a hollow core needle that has a special cutting edge.
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy —a number of samples of tissue are taken using a special rotating probe.
  • Endoscopic biopsy —a long, thin tube is passed to the area. Tools can pass through the tube to remove tissue.
  • Incisional biopsy —a portion of a growth is cut out.
  • Excisional biopsy —a growth is completely removed, such as a breast lump.
  • Punch biopsy —a sample with multiple layers of skin is removed with a special tool.
  • Skin biopsy —a small piece of skin is cut off with a scalpel.
  • Shave biopsy —top layers of skin are shaved off with a special blade.
  • Bone marrow biopsy —a long needle passes into bone to collect marrow cells.

Bone Marrow Biopsy

Bone Biopsy pelvis
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

A simple biopsy will usually only take a few minutes. A biopsy involving surgery takes longer. It may also be part of a larger surgery.

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

You may have pain in the area where the sample was removed. Ask your doctor about medication to help with the pain.

Average Hospital Stay    TOP

You will be able to go home after a simple biopsy. If your biopsy involved surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

Recovery will depend on how much tissue was removed and where it is located. It may take 2-10 days for the results of the biopsy. Your doctor will discuss the results with you. Some results include :

  • Normal tissue, no abnormalities
  • Irritated tissue
  • Not normal, but difficult to interpret
  • Not normal, not cancerous, but a precancerous condition
  • Cancer
  • Inconclusive

Call Your Doctor    TOP

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:

  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the biopsy site
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medication you have been given
  • New or worsening symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Cancer Society
American College of Surgeons


Canadian Cancer Society


Biopsy. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 14, 2018.
Schoonjans JM, Brem RF. Fourteen-gauge ultrasonographically guided core-needle biopsy of breast masses. J Ultrasound Med. 2001;20(9):967-972.
6/3/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013

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