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What is a biopsy?

A biopsy involves taking a small piece of tissue from the body so that it can be tested. This helps to diagnose disease.

Why are biopsies done?

Biopsies have many uses. They are sometimes done to check if a lump is cancerous or not. Other times they check for problems like liver or kidney diseases. They can be used to find out when a condition is getting better or worse. Biopsies can also help doctors choose the best treatment.

Biopsy types

There are many types of biopsy, depending on the part of the body being looked at.

A biopsy can involve cutting the skin so that the doctor can remove a small part of tissue or organ.

In many cases, a needle can be used to draw out some tissue. This can usually be performed under local anaesthetic. Sometimes imaging (such as CT scans, X-rays or ultrasounds) is used to guide the needle.

How to prepare for a biopsy

It's important to ask your doctor if you need to prepare in any way. You may be asked to fast (not eat or drink for a period of time) before certain biopsies. Depending on the procedure, your doctor may ask you to have a blood test. They may also ask you to stop taking certain medications for a few days beforehand.

What happens after a biopsy?

It is rare to have any serious side effects after a biopsy. The spot where the biopsy was taken may be a bit bruised or sore for a few days. Depending on the type of anaesthetic drug used you might not be able to drive home afterwards.

In rare cases you might experience bleeding or infection where the biopsy was taken. It is very unlikely that the biopsy could injure one of your organs, but sometimes this does happen. You should always talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms after a biopsy that you're worried about.

Biopsy results are usually available within a few days. Check with your doctor how you will get them.

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Last reviewed: April 2020

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