biopsy close up
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What Is a Biopsy?

It's a test to check for signs of disease. Your doctor takes a small sample of tissue or cells from an area of your body where you may have cancer, an infection, or another health issue. The sample is sent to a lab, where board certified pathologists look for cells that could be harmful to your health.

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couple in car
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How to Prepare

Your doctor will tell you if there's anything you need to do -- or not do -- before your biopsy. For example, you might need to stop taking drugs like blood thinners or aspirin, or not eat or drink for a number of hours beforehand. If you’re going to get medicine to make you sleepy during the procedure, ask someone to go with you so they can drive you home.

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What to Expect Afterward

The affected area may be sore or uncomfortable for a few days, but your doctor can give you pain medicine if you need it. Take it easy the day after your biopsy, and follow your doctor’s instructions on how long to wear a bandage or take care of the site in some other way.

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pathology lab
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Getting Answers

With some types of biopsies, your doctor can test the sample right away for quick results. Other results are ready in a day or two, but some take a few days longer. The lab will send them to your doctor, who will talk with you about them.

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needle biopsy in breast
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Type: Needle Biopsy

With this kind of biopsy, your doctor uses a needle to take a bit of tissue from a possible problem area. Doctors typically recommend this to test tissues from breasts, lymph nodes, thyroid glands, or testicles.

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ct scan aided needle biopsy
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How a Needle Biopsy Is Done

Your doctor will do this procedure in a clinic or office, and it usually takes less than an hour. They'll clean and numb the area, then they may use ultrasound or another type of imaging scan to help guide the needle to the spot to draw out tissue. Afterward, they'll cover the area where the needle went in with a bandage. It may be a bit sore or bruised for a little while.

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punch biopsy
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Type: Skin Biopsy

This procedure tests moles, growths, rashes, or lesions on your skin. It’s often used to check for skin cancers like melanoma. If the area is just on the surface of your skin, your doctor will shave off a tiny sample with a razor. Deeper growths may need a procedure called a punch biopsy. With that, your doctor will use a round tool to remove a sample for testing.

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wound following skin biopsy
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How a Skin Biopsy Is Done

The area will be cleaned and numbed with medicine. You may feel a little pinch or burning from that, but you won't feel anything with the biopsy itself. Afterward, the site may be red, but it shouldn't hurt. You can rub ointment on the area to keep the skin moist and prevent a scar or infection. It should heal within 3 weeks.

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excisional vs incisional diptych
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Type: Excisional or Incisional Biopsy

These procedures are mostly used to test areas that involve skin, breasts, lymph nodes, or muscles. An excisional biopsy takes a whole polyp or a large area of skin. An incisional biopsy takes a deep but smaller area of skin. For example, if your doctor thinks you have melanoma, they can take out a whole skin tumor with an excisional biopsy, while an incisional biopsy would take out only part of a tumor.

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fresh sutures
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How Excisional and Incisional Biopsies Are Done

Depending on where the area is and its size, your doctor will either numb it or give you medicine to make you sleepy. Then they'll use a small, sharp knife to take a sample of tissue. You may need stitches afterward. After the medicine wears off, you may feel a little pain or notice a small amount of bleeding. If it hurts badly or bleeds a lot, call your doctor right away.

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endoscopic biopsy
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Type: Endoscopic Biopsy

With this, your doctor uses a long, thin tube that has a light and camera at the end called an endoscope. It's recommended when they need to get to an area deep inside your body. For example, it can take samples of tissue from your colon or bladder or a lung.

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How an Endoscopic Biopsy Is Done

The procedure might be done at your doctor’s office or as outpatient surgery in a hospital. Your doctor will give you medicine to make you sleepy, then they'll put the endoscope through your mouth, rectum, or urinary tract or through a small cut in your skin. The camera will guide them to the tissue to be tested. It’s usually a very safe procedure, but there's a small risk of tissue tears, infection, or bleeding.

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bone marrow biopsy
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Type: Bone Marrow Biopsy

Blood diseases and cancers like lymphoma or myeloma can leave signs in your bone marrow. Your doctor can use a long needle to take a small sample of bone marrow or bone to be looked at under a microscope. They'll put some medicine on the area to numb it, but you may feel a little uncomfortable during the procedure.

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laparoscopic exam
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Type: Surgical Biopsy

If your doctor needs to take out a large area of tissue, tumor, lump, or lymph node to be tested, it'll be done in a hospital, and you'll get medicine to make you sleep through the procedure. In some cases, your doctor may make only a tiny cut, then use a tube with a camera on the end to be guided to the right area. That type of surgical biopsy is called a laparoscopic biopsy.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/15/2019 Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 15, 2019


1) GARO / PHANIE / Science Source

2) Goodshoot / Thinkstock

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4) Hank Morgan / Science Source

5) 3D4Medical / Science Source

6) GARO / PHANIE / Science Source

7) Hercules Robinson / Medical Images

8) gutaper / Getty Images

9) (Left to right)  lissart / Getty Images, Richard Hanson / Medical Images

10) Hercules Robinson / Medical Images

11) Mark Miller / Science Source

12) Dr. P. Marazzi / Science Source

13) Jérémy Catry / Science Source

14) John Greim / Science Source



Mayo Clinic: “Biopsy: Types of Biopsy Procedures Used to Diagnose Cancer,” “Needle Biopsy,” “Upper Endoscopy.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Benign,” “Biopsy.” “Biopsies -- Overview.”

Stanford Health Care: “Biopsy.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Needle Biopsy: Test Details.”

University of Michigan Medicine: “Needle Biopsy.”

Yale Medicine: “Skin Biopsies: What You Should Expect.” “What Happens During a Biopsy.”

American Cancer Society: “Reasons for delays in getting your biopsy and cytology test results.”

OncoLink: "Incisional & Excisional Biopsy."

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 15, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.