Cancer Treatment Centers of America


What is a biopsy?

During a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body. A pathologist inspects the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. 

Some biopsies are performed endoscopically, others under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the radiology suite. In some cases, biopsies are performed in the operating suite. This allows your doctor to collect cells from deeper inside the body. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you will receive an anesthetic to reduce discomfort.

Compared with other diagnostic tests for cancer, biopsies often provide a more definitive diagnosis. A biopsy may help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy sample, or if it started somewhere else in the body.

Some sites that are commonly biopsied include the breast, skin, bone marrow, GI tract, lung, liver, bladder, colon and lymph nodes. Our doctors determine the most appropriate method of biopsy based on several factors, such as the size, shape, location, and characteristics of the abnormality.

Types of biopsies

Some common types of biopsy procedures include:

  • Incisional biopsy: The removal of a sample of tissue from a tumor
  • Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire tumor or lesion
  • Core needle biopsy: The removal of a small cylinder of tissue from a tumor with a hollow needle
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of a small amount of tissue or fluid from a tumor with a very thin needle attached to a syringe