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Fine Needle Aspiration

Fine needle aspiration is a type of biopsy procedure. In fine needle aspiration, a thin needle is inserted into an area of abnormal-appearing tissue or body fluid.

As with other types of biopsies, the sample collected during fine needle aspiration can help make a diagnosis or rule out conditions such as cancer.

Fine needle aspiration is generally considered a safe procedure. Complications are infrequent.

Fine Needle Aspiration: When It's Used

A fine needle aspiration is most often done on swellings or lumps located just under the skin.

A lump may be felt during a doctor's examination. Or it may be discovered on an imaging test such as:

  • CT scan
  • mammogram
  • ultrasound

Imaging tests may also discover abnormal spots deeper inside the body.

Doctors may recommend fine needle aspiration for areas such as:

  • cysts (fluid-filled lumps)
  • nodules or masses (solid lumps)
  • enlarged lymph nodes

Without a biopsy, it's usually hard for a doctor to confirm what these abnormal areas contain. And you may not know if they are a threat to your health.

The most common reason to get a fine needle aspiration is to test for cancer.

Most fine needle aspirations are done on these areas:

  • breast
  • thyroid gland
  • lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpit

Those types of fine needle aspirations are performed through the skin.

Using endoscopy, doctors can also reach areas deeper in the body. An endoscopy uses a flexible tube with a light and camera attached. During an endoscopy, a doctor can do a fine needle aspiration on certain abnormal spots in the chest or abdomen.

What to Expect Before Fine Needle Aspiration

There is no one standard preparation before fine needle aspiration. You may be asked to take these preparations:

Changes in medicines. Several days before the test, stop taking aspirin or other blood thinners. These include Plavix (clopidogrel) or brand-name versions of the generic drug warfarin. The brand names of warfarin are:

  • Coumadin
  • Jantoven

 

Changes in diet. Do not eat or drink anything for several hours before the procedure.

If you will be getting sedating medication, be sure to bring someone with you to drive you home.

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