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Having a biopsy (tissue sample)

Cancer services at Guy's and St Thomas'


A biopsy involves taking a sample of your tissue so it can be examined in a laboratory. The sample can be taken from almost anywhere on, or in, your body, including your skin, stomach, kidneys, liver and lungs.

Woman looking into a microscopeWhat is it used for?

A biopsy is used to identify abnormal cells and so diagnose your condition. It can tell us how severe your disease is and what stage it’s at. It also helps us to rule out cancer. It is commonly used to check whether a lump, tumour or growth is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

Do I need to prepare?

You do not usually need to prepare for a biopsy unless you are having one during an endoscopy. If you do need to prepare, someone on the team providing your care will explain what to do.

What happens during the procedure?

How a biopsy is carried out depends on where the tissue sample is being taken from.

It may involve having:

  • a hollow needle put into the area being investigated to remove fluid, a few cells or a small amount of tissue. This includes fine-needle aspiration (FNA), bone marrow aspiration and thephine biopsy or core/needle biopsy. You may have a local anaesthetic to numb the area the biopsy is taken from. You may have an ultrasound scan at the same time so the doctor can place the needle in exactly the right place inside your body
  • an endoscopy, which enables a larger amount of tissue to be taken from inside your body, such as your stomach or throat. You may have a sedative for this procedure or possible a general anaesthetic
  • surgery, which enables a larger section of tissue to be removed. You usually have a general anaesthetic.

Your key worker or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) will explain they type of biopsy you are having and what happens during the procedure.

The NHS website explains more about biopsies.