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A biopsy is medical procedure involving the removal of a small piece of tissue for the purpose of laboratory examination. The tissue removed is normally examined under a microscope by a pathologist. It can be used to diagnose a medical situation or to find out the best therapy option for a patient.



A biopsy may be done to help make a medical diagnosis. For example, it is performed if there is concern about cancer. Aside from cancer, a biopsy can determine other conditions such as infections and autoimmune disorders such as lupus.

A biopsy can be performed to support other medical procedures. Here are some examples:

  • A lump or mass in the breast is detected in a mammogram that indicates possibility of breast cancer.
  • A mole on the skin has undergone a change in shape that suggests possibility of melanoma.
  • A patient has chronic hepatitis and it's vital to determine if there is cirrhosis.

A biopsy can also be performed on tissue that appears normal to find out if cancer has spread or if there is rejection of a transplanted organ.

Types of biopsies

There are many types of biopsies and almost all them requires the use of a sharp tool to get a small amount of tissue. Some examples of biopsies are:

  • Needle biopsy - A needle is used to get sample of the suspicious tissue.
  • CT-guided biopsy - A patient lies in a CT-scanner. The images acquired through the scanner will help the physician find the best and accurate position of the needle in order to reach the targeted tissue.
  • Ultrasound-guided biopsy – A physician makes use of an ultrasoundscanner as a guide in directing the needle into the lesion.
  • Liver biopsy – A doctor injects a needle into the liver via the skin on the belly. The procedure extracts liver tissue.
  • Endometrial biopsy - This biopsy is used to look into the lining of the womb. A woman experiencing irregular menstrual periods may be suffering from a hormone imbalance, a polyp formation, or even a tumor.
  • Prostate biopsy – This involves multiple needle biopsies taken at one period from the prostate gland. This requires an insertion of probe into the rectum.
  • Skin biopsy - This procedure involves using a circular blade to get a cylindrical sample of skin tissue.
  • Bone marrow biopsy - This procedure makes use of a large needle to enter the pelvic bone where the bone marrow is collected. The bone marrow biopsy can help detect blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma.
  • Breast biopsy - This kind of biopsy can support other clinical examinations.

For example, if the ultrasound scan or mammography reveals presence of lump or tumor in the breast, the biopsy procedure can determine if the lump or tumor is cancerous or not.

  • Small intestine biopsy – In cases where it is not possible to examine the central part of the small intestine with an endoscope, a biopsy capsule can help in getting sample tissues from the area.
  • Kidney biopsy – Just like liver biopsy, a kidney biopsy makes use of a needle to inject through the skin on the back and into the patient’s kidney.
  • Surgical biopsy – This could be classified as either open or laparoscopic surgery. This is used to access hard-to-reach tissue.


A biopsy is normal when the tissue that is removed does not show any abnormality. On the other hand, an abnormal biopsy result is taken from a tissue with an unusual structure or condition. In the latter case, there is a possibility that the patient has a health issue such as cancer.

Possible complications

Complications of biopsies include bleeding and infection.


  • Biopsy. MedicineNet. (Accessed 27 January 2011.)
  • Biopsy. NetDoctor. (Accessed 27 January 2011.)
  • Biopsy. MedlinePlus. (Accessed 27 January 2011.)
  • What is biopsy? WebMD. (27 January 2011.)