Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

What Is a Biopsy?

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 internally on an imaging test.

Recommended Related to Cancer

General Information About Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH)

The histiocytic diseases in children and adults include three major classes of disorders. Only Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a dendritic cell disorder, is discussed in detail in this summary. Erdheim-Chester disease (primarily found in adults) and juvenile xanthogranuloma (diagnosed in children and adults) are macrophage disorders. Other disorders of the macrophage/monocytoid lineages include Rosai-Dorfman disease and hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Malignant disorders include malignant...

Read the General Information About Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) article > >

Why Are Biopsies Done?

Biopsies are most often done to look for cancer. But biopsies can help identify many other conditions.

A biopsy might be recommended whenever there is an important medical question the biopsy could help answer. Here are just a few examples:

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.
  • Bone marrow biopsy. A large needle is used to enter the pelvis bone to collect bone marrow. This detects blood diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma.
  • Liver biopsy. A needle is injected into the liver through the skin on the belly, capturing liver tissue.
  • Kidney biopsy . Similar to a liver biopsy, a needle is injected through the skin on the back, into the kidney.
  • Aspiration biopsy. A needle withdraws material out of a mass. This simple procedure is also called fine-needle aspiration.
  • Prostate biopsy. Multiple needle biopsies are taken at one time from the prostate gland. To reach the prostate, a probe is inserted into the rectum.
  • Skin biopsy. A punch biopsy is the main biopsy method. It uses a circular blade to get a cylindrical sample of skin tissue.
  • Surgical biopsy. Either open or laparoscopic surgery may be necessary to obtain a biopsy of hard-to-reach tissue. Either a piece of tissue or the whole lump of tissue may be removed.


Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas