What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of tissue from an area of the body. There are different types of biopsies:

  • Percutaneous puncture biopsy – tissue is removed with a very fine needle. The specialist is guided by an x-ray or CT scan
  • Open biopsy – this is carried out during surgery in which local or general anaesthesia is used.
  • Laparoscopic biopsy - very small incisions are made and then, using a laparoscope (a long thin tube with a high-definition camera and a light at the end), the surgeon is guided to reach the area where the sample should be extracted.


What does the biopsy consist of?

A biopsy consists of the removal of body tissue. Once removed, the biopsy is examined in a laboratory to detect the presence of a medical condition.


Usually, the removal of a small piece of tissue by means of a needle is sufficient, but on other occasions the surgical removal of a nodule or lump is necessary.


Why is a biopsy performed?

Biopsies are often used to diagnose cancer. However, they can be used to identify other conditions such as infections or autoimmune disorders. They are also carried out to check if the tissue of an organ is eligible for an organ transplant or if the new organ will be rejected.


Preparation for a biopsy

The most common biopsy procedure is the percutaneous puncture. This is often done on an outpatient basis, meaning that the patient will not need to stay in hospital overnight. It also requires very little preparation.


The specialist will inform the patient about the biopsy that will be performed. They will also ask about medications that the patient may be taking along with their medical history. From this, the specialist can prevent any potential allergic reactions.


Usually, the patient is required to not consume any food or drink in the eight hours leading up to the biopsy.


Women should advise the specialist of any possibility that they may be pregnant. This is due to some biopsies including procedures that involve radiation, which could be harmful to the foetus.


What does it feel like during the procedure?

In the case of needle biopsies (percutaneous puncture), the patient will feel a sharp prick where the needle has been inserted.


In the case of open or laparoscopic biopsies, the patient will be given anaesthesia to help to alleviate the pain. When a local anaesthetic is given, the patient will feel a slight puncture, although they may only feel pressure at the exact moment the needle penetrates the skin.


Normally, the patient can resume activities as normal within 24 hours of the procedure. In the event that the patient feels excessive pain, the doctor may prescribe some type of medication to relieve it.


What do abnormal results mean?

Once the sample is obtained, it’s sent to a laboratory for analysis. A pathology specialist will be in charge of examining the tissue and sending the results to the surgeon.


Occasionally, biopsies are not effective. This can occur when the amount of tissue taken from the body is not sufficient. If the biopsy was effective but provides unexpected results, it may then be necessary to perform a surgical biopsy.


Advances in biopsies

In recent years, progress has been made with liquid biopsies. In these tests, a blood sample is analysed in order to look for tumour-like cells or pieces of DNA.


These biopsies are used to locate early-stage cancers and are useful for planning treatments, as well as determining the treatment’s potential effectiveness.


There are various benefits to liquid biopsies compared to traditional biopsies

  • Results are more accurate
  • Results are obtained more quickly
  • Results can be obtained in a less invasive way
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