More about biopsies

Posted on 13 August 2014

A biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from the body so that it can be analysed in a laboratory in order to diagnose a problem, or to help determine the best course of treatment.

‘To get confirmation of disease, or not,’ explains Dr Frikkie Rademan, simplifying a procedure he as surgeon performs usually when an initial test by a referring specialist suggests an area of tissue in the body isn’t normal. ‘Such as when there is infection in glands, abnormal cells or cancer cells in tissue,’ he says, or when there it has been established that there are ‘nodules in the breast, thyroid, skin, stomach, colon.’

Needle biospies are most commonly performed by the surgical disciplines. They involve a needle being used to access and extract cells from the suspicious tissue. These are often used on tumours that the doctor can feel through your skin (such breast lumps and enlarged lymph nodes).

There are two common kinds – Fine Needle Aspirations (FNA) and core, or ‘thick-needle’ biopsies. During an FNA, a long, thin needle is inserted and a syringe used to draw out fluid and cells. A core biopsy involves using a larger needle with a cutting tip to draw a column of tissue out of a suspicious area. ‘An FNA feels like normal injection is usually performed in the rooms,’ says Dr Rademan. ‘While a core biopsy is performed under local anaesthetic. It leaves a small scar and the patient may be little bit bruised next day.’

Some more specific types of needle biopsies include:

Liver and biopsies
A needle is injected into the liver through the skin on the belly in order to extract liver tissue. For the kidney biopsy, a needle is injected through the skin on the back and into the organ.

Bone biopsy
A bone biopsy is typically used to look for cancer of the bones and is performed by an orthopaedic surgeon or using the CT scan technique.

Prostate biopsy
A number of needle biopsies are taken from the prostate gland all at once.


The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Cancer

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