A biopsy is a test of tissue from the body. A lab will check the sample to see if there is something unusual about it.

Reasons for Procedure

Biopsies look for the cause of:

  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Growth

You may need this done to diagnose or find out more about a problem. It may also be done to find out if there is cancer.

A biopsy can also diagnose:

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but there is some risk. Problems may be:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Scarring

Smoking may raise the risk of problems.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about these risks.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicine.

Do not eat or drink after midnight if you will have general anesthesia.


There are different types of anesthesia. The choice will depend on where the sample is on the body. You may have:

  • General anesthesia —given through an IV to block pain and keep you asleep.
  • Local anesthesia—will numb the area. More common when tissue is taken from the skin.

Description of the Procedure

There are many ways to do a biopsy, such as:

  • Needle biopsy —a thin needle is used to remove cells
  • Aspiration biopsy —a hollow needle uses suction to remove cells
  • Core needle biopsy —tissue is removed using a hollow core needle that has a special cutting edge
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy —many samples of tissue are taken using a special rotating probe
  • Endoscopic biopsy —a long, thin tube is used to pass other tools through and remove tissue
  • Incisional biopsy —a part of a growth is cut out
  • Excisional biopsy —a growth is fully removed, such as a breast lump
  • Punch biopsy —a sample with many 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?

A simple biopsy should only take a few minutes. It will take longer during a surgery.

How Much Will It Hurt?

You may have pain. Ask your doctor about medicine to help with the pain.

Average Hospital Stay

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

Post-procedure Care

Recovery will depend on the location and how much tissue was taken. It may take 2-10 days to get results. Your doctor will talk with you about them. Results may show:

  • Normal tissue, no problems
  • Irritated tissue
  • Not normal, but hard to define
  • Not normal, not cancerous, but a precancerous condition
  • Cancer
  • Inconclusive

Call Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor if you do not get better or you have problems, such as:

  • Redness, swelling, more pain, bleeding, or leaking fluid
  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicine 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: 5/15/2018

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