Needle biopsy is a very safe, minor surgical procedure known
by a number of different names, including needle aspiration biopsy,
fine needle aspiration cytology, fine needle aspiration biopsy and fine
By any name, a needle biopsy is a diagnostic procedure used
to obtain a sample of cells from your body for laboratory testing. It
may be used to take tissue or fluid from muscles, bones or organs, such
as the liver or lungs. In this technique, a thin, hollow needle is
inserted into the area of concern to extract cells that will be examined
under a microscope. Often, a major surgical biopsy can be avoided by
performing a needle aspiration biopsy instead. Your doctor may suggest a
needle biopsy to help diagnose a medical condition or to rule out a
disease or condition. A needle biopsy may also be used to assess the
progress of a treatment.
The sample from your needle biopsy may help your doctor determine causes for certain symptoms, including:
- A mass or lump. A needle biopsy may reveal whether a mass or lump is a cyst, an infection, a benign tumor or cancer.
- An infection. Analysis from a needle biopsy can help doctors
determine what germs are causing an infection so that the most effective
medications can be used.
- Inflammation. Looking closely at a needle biopsy sample may
reveal what's causing inflammation and what types of cells are involved.
Imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) scan or
ultrasound, before or during the needle biopsy, may be used to more
accurately locate precise areas where cells should be collected.
Common types of needle biopsy techniques include:
- Fine-needle aspiration. This type of needle biopsy uses a thin,
hollow needle to draw cells from your body. Fine-needle aspiration is
usually used to biopsy lumps or masses that require only individual
cells for diagnosis, rather than a full tissue sample.
- Core needle biopsy. This type of needle biopsy uses a wider
needle than fine-needle aspiration. The needle is a hollow tube that
allows the doctor to extract a core of tissue for testing. The core
allows examination of individual cells in the tissue, as well as to see
how the cells are arranged within the sample.
Once your doctor has collected enough cells or tissue for analysis,
your needle biopsy procedure is complete. Your health care team may
apply a bandage over the area where the needle was inserted. You may be
asked to apply pressure to the bandage for several minutes to ensure
In most cases, you can go home when your procedure is over,
but whether you'll need to stay for observation depends on what part of
your body was biopsied. In some cases, your health care team may want to
observe you for a few hours to ensure you don't have any complications.
If you received an IV sedative or general anesthetic, you'll be taken
to a comfortable place to relax while the medication wears off. Plan to
take it easy for the rest of the day. Protect the area where you
received the needle biopsy by keeping the bandage in place for as long
Needle biopsy carries a small risk of bleeding and
infection at the site where the needle was inserted, so call your doctor
if you experience:
- Pain at the biopsy site that worsens or isn't helped by medications
- Swelling at the biopsy site
- Drainage from the biopsy site
- Bleeding that doesn't stop with pressure or a bandage.
Seek medical help right away if you experience:
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or numbness in your legs.
If you experience any discomfort during your needle biopsy at all,
it should be very minor, such as the sensation of pressure at the biopsy
site. Tell your health care team if your discomfort is more severe.
After your biopsy, you may feel some mild pain in the area, but this
should resolve in a day or two. A nonaspirin pain reliever, such as
acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), may help relieve the discomfort. Avoid
aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as
ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), as these
may increase the risk of bleeding.
Typically your specialist or your primary care physician will order a
needle biopsy for you. Insurance carriers often cover needle biopsy;
however all insurance plans are unique and patients are encouraged to
check with their carrier regarding rules of coverage.
Consult with your physician or health care provider to learn more.