A needle biopsy is a type of medical procedure used to diagnosis a number of illnesses. The procedure involves inserting a long needle into the body to retrieve sample cells from muscles, bones or internal organs that have been identified as possible areas of concern. Once extracted from the body, the cells are examined under a microscope in the attempt to diagnose the illness.
Needle biopsies are commonly used for diagnosing a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, head-and-neck cancer and mesothelioma. They may also be used to investigate the cytology of cysts, infections or inflamed cells. If your doctor has suggested a needle biopsy, then you likely have many questions about what to expect from the procedure. Answers to the most frequently asked questions about needle biopsies are detailed below:
What Does a Needle Biopsy Procedure Entail?
Prior to the actual needle biopsy, an x-ray or CT scan may be necessary to help pinpoint the exact location of suspect tissue. If such is the case, then you may be asked to lie down for the procedure. However, in most cases the biopsy will be performed from the sitting position.
Prior to needle insertion, the doctor will apply a local anesthetic that numbs the area surrounding the point of injection. He or she will then make a small incision of about 1/8 inch into the skin and insert the needle. While the needle is in your body, the doctor will ask that you hold your breath and remain completely still. After the tissue sample has been collected, the needle is removed and a bandage is placed over the point of entry.
Where is the Procedure Performed?
Needle biopsies are performed in both hospitals and doctor clinics. If you are undergoing a needle biopsy in response to a potential cancer diagnosis, then your procedure may be performed at a specialized cancer treatment center.
Who Performs the Procedure?
Great skill is necessary to accurately perform a needle biopsy without piercing internal cavities. For this reason, experienced doctors with specialized knowledge of internal anatomy perform these types of biopsies. If your procedure is performed in conjunction with a CT scan or x-ray, then a radiologist will likely collect the biopsy.
How Long Does a Needle Biopsy Take?
The length of the procedure depends partly on the area within your body that is being targeted. However, you can likely expect the entire procedure to take between 30 minutes and one hour.
Is Anesthetic Used?
Yes, in most cases localized anesthetic is used prior to needle insertion. This anesthetic is typically administered via surgical needle. In some cases, general anesthesia may be required. If such is the case, then an IV of sedatives will be used to keep you unconscious throughout the procedure.
Does a Needle Biopsy Hurt?
Almost all pain of a needle biopsy is alleviated through the administration of anesthetic. However, injecting the anesthetic itself may cause a slight stinging sensation. Once the biopsy needle is inserted, you will likely feel pressure at the insertion point. If the needle is being inserted into an organ – such as the lungs – then there may be a moment of brief pain as the needle breaks the organ’s surface. Mild pain may also be felt at the point of injection in the days following the procedure.
How Do I Prepare for a Needle Biopsy?
In many cases, a needle biopsy requires no specific actions on your part prior to the procedure. However, if you take blood-thinning medication, then you may be asked to stop taking them a few days prior to the procedure. These medications include warfarin and aspirin.
Depending on the point of collection, you may also be asked to abstain from eating or drinking for six to 12 hours prior to the procedure. If you are being placed under general anesthetic, then the fasting period may be longer (up to 24 hours).
Additionally, general anesthetic biopsies will leave you woozy following the procedure. As such, you should arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home following the procedure. You may also need help recovering over the next day or two.
How Long Until I Get My Biopsy Results?
Following the needle biopsy, your internal tissue is sent to a laboratory for testing. The amount of time until the results are available depends on the type of tissue being studied and the types of technical procedures needed to identify the specific type of illness. However, most biopsy results are available within one to two days following the procedure. You can ask your doctor for a more precise estimation of when you can expect results.
Are There Any Risks With Having a Needle Biopsy?
There is a small risk for infection at the point of needle injection. If you experience uncontrolled bleeding, swelling, drainage at the needle site, fever or pain that gets worse over time, then you should contact your doctor immediately. Feelings of lightheadedness, weakness in the legs and difficulty swallowing or breathing are other signs that may signal the need for immediate medical help.