What is a needle biopsy?

A needle biopsy is a procedure that uses a thin, hollow needle and a syringe to extract cells, fluid or tissue from a suspicious lump or other abnormal area of the body. The material is then examined under a microscope or tested in the laboratory to determine the cause of the abnormality.

Why are needle biopsies done?

A needle biopsy may be called for when a doctor feels an abnormal lump or when imaging scans show the presence of abnormalities in an area of the body. Lumps of the breast, thyroid or lymph nodes are often checked using a needle biopsy.

Biopsies are frequently used to find cancer but there are also many other possible uses, including:

  • Finding an infection
  • Matching organ tissues before a transplant, and looking for signs of organ rejection following a transplant
  • Diagnosing liver disease such as hepatitis C
  • Determining the cause of bleeding in the uterus
  • Determining diseases of blood vessels and connective tissue, such as muscles
  • Finding nerve damage
  • Finding causes of infertility

What are the different types of needle biopsies?

  • Fine needle aspiration uses a thin needle several inches long and a syringe to extract cells, tissue and fluids.
  • Core needle biopsy uses a wide, hollow needle to take out pieces of tissue from the area being examined.
    • Stereotactic core needle biopsy uses mammogram images taken from different angles to zero in on the biopsy site. This type of test is often used when calcium deposits are present or when mammographic findings are too small to be seen with an ultrasound.
    • Vacuum-assisted core biopsy uses a hollow introducer that is guided into place with imaging guidance. Tiny fragments of tissue are then suctioned into the chamber after a rotating knife cuts the sample. This method removes more tissue than a core biopsy performed with a regular needle.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy