A biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from the body in order to examine it more closely. A doctor should recommend a biopsy when an initial test suggests an area of tissue in the body isn’t normal.

Doctors may call an area of abnormal tissue a lesion, a tumor, or a mass. These are general words, used to emphasize the unknown nature of the tissue. The suspicious area may be noticed during a physical examination or inside the body on an imaging test.

Why Are Biopsies Done? 

Biopsies are most often done to look for cancer. But biopsies can help identify many other conditions. A biopsy might be recommended whenever there is an important medical question the biopsy could help answer. Here are just a few examples:

A mammogram shows a lump or mass, indicating the possibility of breast cancer. A mole on the skin has changed shape recently and melanoma is possible. A person has chronic hepatitis and it’s important to know if cirrhosis is present. In some cases, a biopsy of normal-appearing tissue may be done. This can help check for cancer spread or rejection of a transplanted organ.In most cases, a biopsy is done to diagnose a problem or to help determine the best therapy option.

Types of Biopsies 

There are many different kinds of biopsies. Nearly all of them involve using a sharp tool to remove a small amount of tissue. If the biopsy will be on the skin or other sensitive area, numbing medicine is applied first. Here are some types of biopsies:

Needle Biopsy – Most biopsies are needle biopsies, meaning a needle is used to access the suspicious tissue.

CT-Guided Biopsy – A person rests in a CT-scanner; the scanner’s images help doctors determine the exact position of the needle in the targeted tissue.

Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy – An ultrasound scanner helps a doctor direct the needle into the lesion.

Bone Biopsy – A bone biopsy is used to look for cancer of the bones. This may be performed via the CT scan technique or by an orthopedic surgeon.

Liver Biopsy – A needle is injected into the liver through the skin on the belly, capturing liver tissue.

Kidney Biopsy – Similar to a liver biopsy, a needle is injected through the skin on the back, into the kidney.

Aspiration Biopsy – A needle withdraws material out of a mass. This simple procedure is also called fine-needle aspiration.

Breast Biopsies – A breast biopsy removes a sample of breast that is looked at under a microscope to check for breast cancer. A breast biopsy is usually done to check a lump found during a breast examination or a suspicious area found on a mammogram, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Bone Marrow Biopsies – A bone marrow biopsy removes a small amount of bone and a small amount of fluid and cells from inside the bone (bone marrow). A bone marrow aspiration removes only the marrow. These tests are often done to find the reason for many blood disorders and may be used to find out if cancer or infection has spread to the bone marrow.

Thyroid Biopsies – A thyroid biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is removed from the thyroid gland and looked at under a microscope for cancer, infection, or other thyroid problems. The thyroid gland is found in front of the windpipe (trachea), just below the voice box (larynx).

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