A biopsy is when your doctor removes a small piece of tissue from an organ, muscle, or growth. Biopsies of your organs or muscles can be used for to diagnose various conditions or abnormalities, including cancers, inflammatory diseases, and more. In some cases, a biopsy may remove the entirety of the abnormal tissue.

A biopsy is usually done after your doctor sees an area of concern on an imaging scan. 

There are different types of biopsies that your doctor can use to get a tissue sample from organs or muscle.

Needle biopsy

Your physician applies an anesthetic (numbing agent) and, guided by CT scan or X-ray, inserts a needle into you to obtain a tissue sample for analysis. Biopsies can be take from your organs or muscles, or an internal growth such as a tumor.

There are two main types of needle biopsies:

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy: FNA uses a thin, hollow needle (thinner than the needles used to draw blood) to draw out fluid or tissue from a lump. Depending on the size and location of the lump, the needle is sometimes directed into the lump simply by feeling it. Other times it may be guided into the lump with the assistance of an ultrasound. FNAs are rarely painful and don’t tend to leave scars. Although FNA is the easiest type of biopsy to have, it doesn’t always provide a clear result.
  • Core needle biopsy: A core needle biopsy uses a thick needle to draw out cores (pieces) of tissue for examination. Because the thicker needle is able to remove more tissue, a core needle biopsy is more likely to provide clear results than a fine needle aspiration.

Vacuum-assisted biopsy

Vacuum-assisted biopsies are done using Suros technologies with the assistance of a mammogram, MRI, or ultrasound. Your doctor makes a small cut in your skin after it has been numbed and inserts a hollow probe through the cut. They then use the probe to remove a piece (or several pieces) of tissue. Vacuum-assisted biopsies generally remove more tissue than core needle biopsies. The medical term for this type of biopsy is a stereotactic biopsy.

Surgical biopsy

The least common type of biopsy, a surgical (or open) biopsy is generally used to remove all or part of the lump for examination under a microscope. When the whole lump is removed, the surgeon may also remove some of the surrounding healthy tissue. Surgical biopsies are generally performed in the hospital’s outpatient centers. Local anesthesia is used in combination with other drugs to make you relaxed and drowsy. The procedure can also be done using general anesthesia.