Biopsy Overview


What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of all or some cells or tissue for examination. The sample of tissue, and possibly culture from bacteria, can be taken from any part of the body. The sample will be sent for testing and will be looked at under a microscope. After the findings, your healthcare provider will talk to you about the results. Remember — just because you are having a biopsy does NOT mean you have cancer.

What is a biopsy used for?

Although biopsies are used to find cancer, they can also be used to discover:

Test Details

How is a biopsy done?

There are many different ways a biopsy is done. Depending on your circumstance, the options can vary. Biopsies are usually performed as outpatient surgery. Different options are listed below:

  • A scraping of cells: The removal of cells on the outer layer of the tissue. This technique could be used with tissues in the mouth or in the cervix.
  • A punch biopsy: Tissue removal to detect skin conditions. The doctor uses a tool to take a skin sample. It makes a small hole in the skin. This removes the top layer of the tissue.
  • A needle biopsy: A needle guided by an X-ray is used to gather the tissue. A needle biopsy takes samples from organs, bone marrow, and breast lumps for testing. Depending on where the tissue is being taken from, the surgical instrument might vary.
  • An endoscopic biopsy: The use of an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end along with a cutting tool to remove samples) aids with this procedure. Tissue is removed and sent for testing.
  • An excisional biopsy: A large section of tissue is removed using an instrument like a scalpel.
  • A perioperative biopsy: This biopsy occurs while another operation is going on. With the approval of the patient, the tissue will be removed and tested right away. Results will be given shortly after the procedure so that treatment, if necessary, can start as soon as possible.

Who does biopsies?

Biopsies are routinely done by surgeons, endoscopists, and radiologists. The tissue is then sent for testing. You should discuss with your doctor who will interpret the results. This will vary by procedure. Your healthcare provider will give you the results of the procedure, usually within a week to 10 days.

How do you prepare for a biopsy?

Each situation is different. Depending on the biopsy type, your doctor might make certain suggestions. The doctor might suggest that you:

  • Do not take certain medications, such as aspirin or blood thinners.
  • Do not eat or drink prior to the procedure.
  • Have a list of all medications, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter products.
  • Tell your healthcare provider about any allergies.
  • Tell your healthcare provider about any current illness.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if there is potential for pregnancy.

How do you recover?

If your doctor prescribes a local anesthetic (numbing only the area where the test is being performed), then you will be able to go home after the procedure. If you have a general anesthetic, you might have to stay overnight. After the procedure, you might feel pain in the biopsy area. If this occurs, your doctor can prescribe pain medication. In most cases, you will not have pain after the procedure. Recovery times can vary from person to person.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/06/2017.


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  • Radiologyinfo. Accessed 4/3/2018.Biopsy Overview. (
  • Meric-Bernstam F, Pollock RE. Chapter 10. Oncology. In: Brunicardi FC, Andersen DK, Billiar TR, Dunn DL, Hunter JG, Matthews JB, Pollock RE, eds. Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2010.

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