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A biopsy removes a sample of tissue or cells from the body.

Doctors examine tissue samples for abnormalities, to rule out cancer and/or to specify its type and level of aggressiveness.

Biopsies can help explain the causes of:

  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Growth


While rare, potential problems include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Results that are difficult to interpret

Smoking may increase the risk of complications.

Biopsy Types

  • Needle biopsy — removes cells with a thin needle
  • Aspiration biopsy — a hollow needle removes cells with suction
  • Core needle biopsy — uses a hollow-core needle with a special cutting edge
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy — uses a special rotating probe
  • Endoscopic biopsy — uses an endoscope
  • Incisional biopsy — removes a portion of a mass 
  • Excisional biopsy — removes an entire mass, such as a breast lump
  • Punch biopsy — a special tool removes a core of skin 
  • Skin biopsy — a scalpel removes a small piece of skin 
  • Shave biopsy — a special blade removes the top layer of skin
  • Bone marrow biopsy — cells get collected from bone marrow by a long needle

Bone Biopsy pelvis

Bone Marrow Biopsy

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

About Biopsies

Length: A biopsy usually takes just a few minutes

Pain: Biopsies can cause minor pain, which can be alleviated with medication

Hospital stay: If your biopsy included surgery, you'll need to stay in the hospital 1-2 days

Cause for Concern

Contact your doctor if you have:

  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding or discharge from the biopsy site
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Pain that you cannot control with medication
  • New or worsening symptoms

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


Call 434.243.3090

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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