Alternative names 
Tissue sampling


A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination and/or culture, often to help the physician make a diagnosis.

How the test is performed

The method of tissue removal varies among the type of biopsies:

  • In a needle (percutaneous) biopsy, the tissue sample is simply obtained by use of a syringe. A needle is passed into the tissue to be biopsied, and cells are removed through the needle. Depending on the location of the tissue to be biopsied, needle biopsies are often performed under X-ray (usually CT scan) guidance.  
  • In an open biopsy, an incision is made in the skin, the organ is exposed, and a tissue sample is taken.  
  • Closed biopsy involves a much smaller incision than open biopsy. The small incision is made to allow insertion of a visualization device, which can guide the physician to the appropriate area to take the sample.

If the tissue to be sampled is in the abdomen and cannot be safely accessed with a needle or closed procedure, an open biopsy must be performed in the operating room.

How to prepare for the test

Check with your physician about stopping medications that can predispose to bleeding, such as aspirin, Coumadin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Also mention any herbal preparations you are taking. Never change your medication regimen without first checking with your physician.

How the test will feel

In a needle biopsy, you will feel a small sharp pinch at the site of the biopsy. In an open or closed biopsy, local or general anesthesia is generally used to make the procedure pain free.

Why the test is performed

A biopsy may be performed to obtain healthy tissue can be obtained for the purpose of tissue-type matching for transplants. Unhealthy tissues are more commonly biopsied to diagnose disease.

Normal Values

Normal tissue.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal biopsies mean that the material obtained differs from the usual structure or condition of the tissue.

Abnormal results may indicate the presence of disease, such as cancer, depending on the particular case.

What the risks are

  • Bleeding  
  • Infection

Special considerations

Please see the following list of tests or procedures to obtain more information on why each one is performed, how it is performed, the risks, and normal and abnormal results:

  • Abdominal wall fat pad biopsy  
  • Adrenal biopsy  
  • Biopsy of the biliary tract  
  • Bladder biopsy  
  • Bone lesion biopsy  
  • Bone marrow biopsy  
  • Breast biopsy  
  • Bronchoscopy with transtracheal biopsy  
  • Carpal tunnel biopsy  
  • Cervical biopsy  
  • Chorionic villus biopsy  
  • Cold cone biopsy  
  • Colposcopy-directed biopsy  
  • Endometrial biopsy  
  • Gum biopsy  
  • Liver biopsy  
  • Lung needle biopsy  
  • Lymph node biopsy  
  • Mediastinoscopy with biopsy  
  • Muscle biopsy  
  • Myocardial biopsy  
  • Nasal mucosal biopsy  
  • Nerve biopsy  
  • Open lung biopsy  
  • Open pleural biopsy  
  • Oropharynx lesion biopsy  
  • Parathyroid biopsy  
  • Pleural needle biopsy  
  • Polyps biopsy  
  • Rectal biopsy  
  • Renal biopsy  
  • Salivary gland biopsy  
  • Skin lesion biopsy  
  • Skinny-needle biopsy  
  • Small bowel biopsy  
  • Synovial biopsy  
  • Testicular biopsy  
  • Thyroid excisional biopsy  
  • Tongue biopsy  
  • Upper airway biopsy  
  • Ureteral retrograde brush biopsy cytology


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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