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A needle biopsy is a medical test which can identify the cause of an abnormal lump or mass in your body. A specially trained doctor known as an interventional radiologist performs this procedure. During the procedure, the interventional radiologist inserts a small needle into the abnormal area and removes a sample of the tissue, which is given to a pathologist, who looks at it under a microscope. The pathologist can determine what the abnormal tissue is: cancer, non-cancerous tumor, infection or scar.

Why do I need a needle biopsy?

The most common reason to need a needle biopsy is to identify the cause of an abnormal lump somewhere deep in your body. Imaging tests such as mammography, ultrasound, CT scan, and magnetic resonance (MRI), can find abnormal masses, but these tests alone cannot always diagnose the lump. A needle biopsy can determine the cause of an abnormal lump or mass. Your doctors need this information in order to provide you with the best care and treatment.

How do I prepare for a needle biopsy?

Usually, no special preparation is necessary. Your doctor will tell you if any special diet or medication instructions are necessary.

What is a needle biopsy procedure like? Will it hurt?

First, the interventional radiologist will use some form of imaging such as CT or ultrasound to determine the best approach for the biopsy. Next, this specially trained doctor will wash the area where the needle biopsy is going to be performed and put local anesthetic in the skin and deeper tissues to numb the area. Occasionally an intravenous line will be started, so that the interventional radiologist can give you fluids and medicines during your biopsy. The interventional radiologist will then put a small needle into the mass or lump. This doctor will take X-ray, CT, ultrasound, or mammogram images of the biopsy area during the procedure. These images will help the radiologist put the needle in exactly the right place. You usually feel some pressure during the procedure. The interventional radiologist will use the biopsy needle to remove a tiny piece of tissue or some cells from the mass. A needle biopsy usually takes about one hour. The tissue (or cell) sample is sent to a pathologist, who will examine the tissue or cells under a microscope. Usually, the results of the biopsy are ready in two to three days.

What happens after the biopsy? When can I go home?

After your biopsy, you will be asked to stay for a time period so that the staff can watch you to make sure that you are alright. Most people go home between one and four hours after their biopsy. Take things easy for the rest of the day after your biopsy. You may be sore in the biopsy area for one to two days.

What are the risks of having a needle biopsy?

A needle biopsy has few risks because such a small needle is used. Complications are very infrequent: fewer than one percent of patients develop bleeding or infection. A member of your interventional radiology team will discuss the risks of your biopsy with your in detail before the procedure starts. In about 90 percent of the patients, the needle biopsy provides enough information for the pathologist to determine the cause of the mass or lump. Occasionally you may be asked to return for a second needle biopsy, or a surgeon may have to do an operation to get the tissue or cell sample.

What are the benefits of having a needle biopsy?

Before needle biopsies were possible, surgery was needed to remove the tissue to be examined. Needle biopsies can often answer questions about your health without surgery.

Some of the above information was provided by Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology 1992.