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.
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This summary contains the following key information:
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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.