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Fine Needle Biopsy: About This Test

What is a fine needle biopsy?

A fine needle biopsy is a test of a sample of tissue that is looked at under a microscope. It may be done to check for cancer. For the biopsy, your doctor uses a thin needle to take a small sample of fluid or cells for testing.

Why is it done?

A fine needle biopsy is used to check a lump, mass, or other area of concern. These may have been found during imaging such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or mammography.

How do you prepare for the test?

If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your test. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.

How is the test done?

  • Depending on what part of your body is being tested, you may sit in a chair or lie on a table. After you are positioned, the doctor or nurse will clean the area where the biopsy will be done.
  • In most cases, you'll get a shot of medicine to numb the biopsy area. In some cases, you may have general anesthesia, which will make you sleep.
  • When the area is numb, your doctor will insert a thin needle into the lump or tissue. If the lump cannot be felt, your doctor may use imaging such as ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI to guide the needle.
  • The doctor will take one or more samples for the biopsy.
  • A marker may be placed in the biopsy site. You won't be able to feel or see this marker after it is placed. The marker will be visible in future imaging tests, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs. This will help the doctor find the area later.
  • After the needle is removed, pressure is put on the needle site to stop any bleeding. The area is covered with a bandage.

How does it feel?

You may feel only a quick sting from the needle, either from the shot that numbed the area or from the biopsy itself. If you have general anesthesia, you won't feel anything during the procedure.

How long does it take?

A fine needle biopsy can take about 5 to 15 minutes. But it will depend on what part of your body is being tested and if imaging will be used to guide the needle. It may also take longer if general anesthesia is used.

What happens after the test?

  • You'll be told how long it may take to get your results.
  • You will probably be able to go home right away. But this will depend on the location of the biopsy and if general anesthesia was used.
  • After the doctor looks at the biopsy sample for signs of cancer, their office will let you know the results.
  • If the test results aren't clear, you may have another biopsy or test.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Your doctor will tell you when you can resume your normal activities.
  • The site may be tender for 2 or 3 days. You may also have some bruising, swelling, or slight bleeding.
    • You can use an ice pack. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
    • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have severe pain in your belly or chest.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek medical care if:

  • You have new or worse pain or swelling.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over the biopsy site.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the puncture site.
    • Pus draining from the puncture site.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.