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What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is a medical procedure where a small amount of tissue is taken as a sample to be examined. A biopsy is generally performed as a second step after a healthcare professional notices something abnormal about a certain part of the body during a basic physical examination or imaging test.

Many different types of biopsies exist, including needle, bone, and bone marrow biopsies. In many cases, a sharp tool, such as a needle, is used to extract the tissue sample. If the extraction has the potential to cause the patient pain, a numbing agent may be applied to the extraction site before the procedure begins.

The intrusiveness of a biopsy depends primarily on how easy or difficult it is for a healthcare professional to access the abnormal tissue. For example, a basic skin biopsy may take only a few minutes and require minimal numbing agent. More invasive biopsies may be performed in a hospital, with stronger sedatives and numbing agents given to reduce the amount of pain the patient experiences.

Why are biopsies important in healthcare?

A biopsy is often used to diagnose cancer. The subsequent biopsy report can determine whether or not the patient has cancer, the type of cancer the patient has, and how aggressive the cancer is (also referred to as the cancer’s grade).

Although biopsies are most commonly used to diagnose cancer, they also serve other helpful purposes. For example, infections like tuberculosis can be diagnosed with the help of a biopsy. Biopsies can also be used to diagnose autoimmune disorders, such as lupus.