by EBSCO Medical Review Board


A biopsy is a test of tissue from the body. A lab will check the sample to look for signs of change or disease.

Reasons for Procedure

This test is done to look for the cause of:

  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Growth

It may also be done to find out if there is cancer or to help diagnose:

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Scarring

Smoking may raise the risk of problems.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The biopsy team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the biopsy
  • Fasting before the biopsy, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from the biopsy


The doctor may give:

Description of the Procedure

There are many ways to do a biopsy, such as:

  • Needle biopsy—a thin needle is used to remove cells
  • Aspiration biopsy—a hollow needle uses suction to remove cells
  • Core needle biopsy—tissue is removed using a hollow core needle that has a special cutting edge
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy—many samples of tissue are taken using a special rotating probe
  • Endoscopic biopsy—a long, thin tube is used to pass other tools through and remove tissue
  • Incisional biopsy—a part of a growth is cut out
  • Excisional biopsy—a growth is fully removed, such as a breast lump
  • Punch biopsy —a sample with many layers of skin is removed with a special tool
  • Skin biopsy —a small piece of skin is cut off with a scalpel
  • Shave biopsy—top layers of skin are shaved off with a special blade
  • Bone marrow biopsy —a long needle passes into bone to collect marrow cells
Bone Marrow Biopsy
Bone Biopsy pelvis
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How Long Will It Take?

A simple biopsy will only take a few minutes. It will take longer during a surgery.

Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common in the first few days. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

You will be able to go home after a simple biopsy. If you had surgery, you may need to stay for 1 to 2 days.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center

The staff may give you pain medicines after the biopsy.

At Home

Recovery will depend on the location of the biopsy and how much was taken. It may take 2 to 10 days to get the results. Your doctor will share the results with you.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, more pain, bleeding, or leaking fluid
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicine you have been given
  • New or worsening symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Cancer Society 

American College of Surgeons 


Canadian Cancer Society 

Health Canada 


Biopsies—overview. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2020.

Biopsy. Cancer.Net website. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2020.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN
  • Review Date: 03/2021
  • Update Date: 03/23/2021