Tongue biopsy

Alternative names
Biopsy - tongue


A tongue biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which a small piece of tongue tissue is removed for examination.

How the test is performed
A tongue biopsy is performed with a needle. After numbing the area, the needle is inserted into the tongue, and a small core of tongue tissue is removed.

A tongue biopsy may also be performed by thinly slicing a piece of tongue tissue, or by surgical excision (usually under general anesthesia) of a lesion, growth, or area of the tongue that appears abnormal.

How to prepare for the test
Fasting may be recommended before this test. You must sign a consent form.

Infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this procedure depends on your child’s age, previous experiences, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following:

  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
A needle biopsy is often somewhat uncomfortable even with use of an anesthetic, because the tongue is quite sensitive. After the biopsy, the tongue can be tender or sore, and it may feel slightly swollen.

Why the test is performed
The test is performed to determine the cause of abnormal growths, lesions, or suspicious-appearing areas of the tongue. It may be used to help diagnose conditions such as amyloidosis or tongue cancer.

Normal Values
There is normal tongue tissue, with no abnormal inclusions or cellular changes.

What abnormal results mean

  • Amyloidosis  
  • Tongue (oral) cancer

What the risks are

  • Bleeding  
  • Infection  
  • Swelling of the tongue (can obstruct the airway and cause breathing difficulty)

Note: Complications are rare.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.