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Lung biopsy

4-minute read

What is a lung biopsy?

A lung biopsy involves removing small pieces of abnormal lung tissue using a needle passed through the skin, between the ribs and into the lung.

What are the benefits of a lung biopsy?

Your doctor (a lung specialist) is concerned about a problem in your lung that has shown up on an x-ray or scan. A lung biopsy is a good way of finding out what the problem is and what treatment you may need.

Illustration showing a lung biopsy.
A lung biopsy.

Are there any alternatives to a lung biopsy?

An x-ray or scan can show that you have a problem in your lungs, and can be used to monitor any changes.

It may be possible to have surgery without your surgeon knowing exactly what the problem is.

What does the procedure involve?

A lung biopsy usually takes less than 45 minutes. You will be awake throughout the procedure. It involves inserting a needle through your chest wall, between your ribs and into your lung. Your doctor may use a CT or ultrasound scan to help decide exactly where to take the samples from. They will inject local anaesthetic into the area where the needle will be inserted. Your doctor will insert the needle between your ribs and into the abnormal area in your lung.

They will use the needle to take small samples of lung tissue. The samples will be examined under a microscope to find out the cause of your problem.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death

  • pneumothorax, where air escapes into the space around your lung
  • allergic reaction
  • bleeding from a biopsy site

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after a few hours.

You should be able to return to work the next day unless you are told otherwise.

The healthcare team will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

You should be able to return to normal activities the next day.

Regular exercise should improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.


A lung biopsy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out about the problem in your lung.


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Last reviewed: September 2023

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