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 needle aspiration.
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 minimal bleeding.
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 as instructed.
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.