A biopsy is the process of removing tissue from any part of the body in order to examine it for disease. Though some biopsies involve the removal of an entire lump or nodule surgically, many biopsies are a minimally invasive procedure that involve removing a small amount of tissue with a needle.
When suspicious tissue is first detected, a physician will often use imaging tests to determine if the tissue is benign/non-cancerous or malignant/cancerous. Biopsies often become necessary to confirm diagnoses or when imaging tests are inconclusive.
As biopsies are used to examine tissue for disease, they are often associated with cancer diagnoses. Biopsies can also examine tissue for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and disorders as well as infection. Nearly any organ in the human body can be biopsied, and biopsies are commonly used to examine tissue from the abdomen, bone, bone marrow, breast, uterus, kidney, liver, lung or chest, lymph nodes, muscles, nerves, skin, testicles and thyroid.
There are three main methods of biopsies: fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy and vacuum assisted biopsy. The type of biopsy used depends largely on the part of the body being biopsied. Your interventional radiology specialist will discuss with you the type of biopsy that is best for your particular situation.
In a fine needle aspiration, a fine gauge needle and syringe is used to withdraw a cluster of cells or fluid.
In a core needle biopsy, an automated mechanism is used to fill a needle trough with a ‘core’ of tissue. This process may be repeated more than once.
In a vacuum-assisted biopsy, a needle is placed into the suspicious tissue and a vacuum device is activated, pulling tissue into a needle trough. This process may also be repeated more than once.
Biopsies are typically a minimally invasive procedure, though your healthcare team may opt to remove the entire lump or nodule of suspicious tissue surgically. Surgery may also be necessary if the suspicious tissue is in an area of the body that is difficult to reach using a minimally invasive method.