A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample of tissue is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells. Sometimes the sample is tested with chemical reagents to help identify abnormal chemicals in the tissue sample or tests are done on the sample to look for bacteria or other germs.

Biopsies are often important to diagnose cancer. A biopsy is commonly done if you have a lump or swelling of a part of the body where there is no apparent cause.

Various other conditions can be diagnosed by taking a biopsy. For example, inflammation within organs such as the liver or kidney can be seen on a biopsy sample.

How are biopsies done?

A 'punch' biopsy. This is useful to diagnose a range of skin conditions. A special instrument punches a small hole through the top layers of the skin to remove a sample of skin.

A 'needle' biopsy. This can sample tissue from organs or lumps beneath the skin. For example, a special long needle can be inserted through the skin into the kidney, liver, thyroid, bone marrow, or abnormal lumps, etc.

Endoscopic biopsies. An endoscope is a thin flexible telescope which is used to 'look' into various parts of the body. A biopsy of tissue is commonly taken during these procedures. For example, during a gastroscopy .

Excisional biopsy. This means an entire abnormal lump is removed to be examined. This may be done under local or general anaesthesia, depending on the site of the lump. For example, this type of biopsy may be done for certain breast lumps.

Perioperative biopsy. Sometimes, when you are having an operation, a surgeon may remove a small sample of tissue which is examined within a few minutes. This may help the surgeon to determine the cause and decide on how to proceed with the operation

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