What Is a Bone Biopsy?

A bone biopsy is a test that takes a sample of tissue or cells from your bone to check for cancer or other bone diseases.

The sample comes from the outer part of your bone. It's different from a marrow biopsy, which takes the cells from deep inside.

There are two types:

  • Needle biopsy uses a special needle to remove the sample.
  • Open biopsy removes the piece of bone through an opening in your skin. You'd have this type of biopsy if the doctor needs a larger sample.

These tests can show whether you have cancer or another problem. You might get anxious over the thought that you might have cancer or over having the procedure. That’s a natural reaction, but it’s important to have the test done.

It can help your doctor diagnose you and find the right treatment.

How to Prepare

Your doctor will tell you what to expect during the biopsy. Ask questions about anything you don't understand.

You will sign a consent form. This gives the doctor permission to do the test. Before the procedure, let her know if you:

You might have blood tests to make sure you're healthy enough for the test. Your doctor will ask you to stop taking blood thinners a few days before the biopsy. Take your other medicines with a sip of water on the morning of the test. Don't eat or drink anything 8 hours beforehand.

You'll wear a gown during the test. Take off your jewelry, glasses, and anything that contains metal.

What Happens

A bone biopsy can be done at a hospital or your doctor's office.

Before the test, you'll get medicine to prevent pain and help you relax or sleep. During the biopsy, nurses will check your heartbeat and blood pressure.

The doctor might use one of these scans to see your bone during the test:

  • CT, or computed tomography. It's a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of your bones.
  • MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of your bones.

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During a Needle Biopsy

You'll get numbing medicine so you won't feel pain.

The doctor makes a small cut in the skin over the bone. Then the doctor places the needle into the bone to take out the sample.

She uses a very thin one in a fine needle biopsy to remove a small sample of cells or tissue. She uses a larger one to get a bigger piece of bone in a core needle biopsy.

You might feel some pressure when the needle goes in and the sample is taken out. A bandage is placed over the area to stop the bleeding.

During an Open Biopsy

You will get medicine to help you sleep and numb the area where the biopsy will be done. The doctor makes a small cut in your skin over the bone and removes a piece of it.

She closes the hole in your skin with stitches or tape strips. Someone will put a bandage on the opening.

After the Procedure

You will go into a recovery room. The nurses will check your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing.

Once you are awake, you will either go home or to a hospital room to stay overnight. Ask a friend or family member to drive you home. You might be groggy after the test.

Your doctor will show you how to clean and care for the biopsy area at home. Your stitches will be removed during a follow-up visit.

The area where you had the biopsy might be sore for up to a week. Your doctor can give you pain medicine.

The sample of bone will go to a lab. A specialist will look at it under a microscope to see whether it shows cancer or something else. It may take up to a week to get the results.

Possible Complications

Side effects from a needle biopsy include:

  • Bleeding from the biopsy site
  • Infection
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage
  • Bone fracture

Call your doctor if you have blood or fluid draining from the biopsy site, warmth or swelling of the area, fever, or pain.

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What Your Results Mean

A biopsy can find out whether you have a tumor in your bone, and if that tumor is cancer. The doctor who ordered the test will explain what your results mean.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "How is bone cancer diagnosed?"

American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Biopsy." 

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Bone Biopsy."

Radiological Society of North America, Inc.: "Bone Biopsy."

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