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What is a Biopsy?

A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure during which a small piece of tissue or aspiration of fluid is collected from some part of the body. Usually, the procedure is done through a needle. The tissue or fluid is examined by a laboratory under a microscope to look for signs of infection or disease such as cancer.

How is it Performed?

The approach to a biopsy depends on the body part being biopsied. For example, during a biopsy, the doctor may simply insert a needle into a fluid-filled cyst and withdraw the fluid into a hypodermic syringe. An excision biopsy requires a very small incision in the muscle or soft tissue, through which a small instrument cuts and extracts a bit of tissue for examination. Common forms of biopsy include:

  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Vacuum assisted
  • Image-guided
  • Core needle (a larger bore needle with a sharp cutting edge that can draw small tissue samples from area)
  • Endoscopic (tissue samples)
  • Bone marrow (through a needle)


  • Determine infection
  • Determine presence of cancer in very small tissue samples
  • Help in the diagnosis of symptoms


  • Leukemia diagnosis and treatment
  • Cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Skin cancer testing and diagnosis

How Long Does it Take?

Depending on the area being biopsies, the procedure may take anywhere from a few seconds to 20 minutes or more. Lab result times may also vary. Before the biopsy is performed, you'll be given an injection of a local anesthetic so you won't feel the actual needle aspiration or tissue collection process. In some cases, a biopsy of suspicious tissue or fluid may be performed during a surgery procedure, so collection time and examination by a pathologist is usually performed very quickly.