14 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Biopsy

What Is a Biopsy?

A biopsy is a sample of tissue removed by your doctor to make a precise diagnosis. Biopsy procedures can range from a simple sampling of skin under local anesthesia to surgical opening of the chest wall to remove a portion of lung tissue. Biopsies may also be obtained during diagnostic procedures such as endoscopy, colonoscopy, bronchoscopy, and others. Sometimes doctors perform biopsies using a CAT scan or other radiological imaging techniques to help identify the exact area to be sampled and avoid injury to surrounding organs.

What Are the Types of Biopsies?

There are several types of biopsies:

  • Excisional biopsy. If your doctor finds an area of interest or a suspicious finding (for example, an enlarged nevus, or mole), often an excisional biopsy is performed to remove the area in question in its entirety during the biopsy.
  • Incisional biopsy. An incisional biopsy refers to removal of only a portion of the area of interest (for example, sampling of a small fragment of tissue from a larger breast lump).
  • Fine needle biopsy. A fine needle biopsy is used to remove cells or fluid by suctioning through a long, thin needle.
  • Core needle biopsy. During a core needle biopsy, the doctor inserts a special needle through a skin incision that removes a very thin, cylindrical piece of tissue.

What Should You Learn About Your Upcoming Biosy?

The following questions can help guide your discussions with your doctor concerning a biopsy (print these and take them with you to your doctor's visit):

  • What information do you hope to gain from the biopsy? What is the likelihood that the biopsy will establish a diagnosis?
  • How is the biopsy done?
  • Can the diagnosis be established by any alternative methods?
  • Is the procedure painful? Is a local or general anesthesia involved?
  • How safe is the biopsy procedure?
  • Can the biopsy be performed in your office, or must the procedure be done in a hospital?
  • How many samples will be removed?
  • How large is the tissue fragment to be removed?
  • How long will the procedure take? Can I go about my normal daily activities afterward?
  • Will I have pain or scarring afterward?
  • Who will interpret the biopsy?
  • How long will I wait until a result is available?
  • How will I be informed about the result of the biopsy?
  • Are there any complications that might arise as a result of the biopsy procedure? If complications develop, what should I do or whom should I contact?
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


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