Has your doctor recommended specialist tests? In this section you'll find information about common medical examinations and procedures performed by doctors in the UK.
What is a biopsy? A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue from the body for examination. The tissue will be examined under a microscope to assist in diagnosis. Therefore, only very small samples are needed.
Sometimes, it is enough just to scrape over an area. This is the case with cell examinations of the cervix (neck of the womb).
During examination of the large intestine, a biopsy can be taken with forceps through a tube known as an endoscope.
In other cases, for instance, a liver or kidney biopsy, the biopsy is taken using a large hypodermic needle.
rostate biopsy A prostate biopsy may be performed if abnormality is found by the doctor or nurse while performing a digital rectum examination (DRE).
A trans-rectal ultrasound scan (TRUSS) of the prostate gland may be requested to assess any abnormality felt on DRE, or if a blood test shows an elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test.
The procedure takes place in hospital and is performed without anaesthetic.
The radiologist or urologist performing the procedure will have requested any patients taking blood thinning agents, eg aspirin or warfarin, to have discontinued them for up to one week beforehand because of the risk of bleeding. Antibiotics will be given to the patient beforehand to cover the risk of infection.
Throughout the biopsy, the patient lies on his side with his knees bent and his legs pulled up to his chest.
If any abnormality is seen on the ultrasound scan, a biopsy is taken quickly. The patient feels a short, sharp shock as a number of small needles move in and out of the prostate.
The procedure can also be done without ultrasound guidance. To do this the doctor uses a finger to guide a single needle to the abnormal area and takes a series of biopsies, one after the other.
After the procedure the patient may experience some discomfort for a short period of time and possibly notice some blood in their urine intermittently for a few days.
Breast biopsy This kind of biopsy is used if a clinical examination, ultrasound scan or a mammography reveals the possibility of a lump or tumour in the breast. The biopsy determines whether the lump is benign or malignant.
One method called fine-needle aspiration or FNA, uses a hypodermic needle to pierce the skin and suck out the sample. This may sometimes be done under ultrasound or X-ray guidance.
Another option is a surgical biopsy, where the whole lump is removed.
Bone marrow biopsy A bone marrow biopsy may be necessary for many different diseases of the bone marrow, the blood and the lymphatic system. The biopsy will normally be taken from the upper part of the hip (a point called the iliac crest), but it can also be taken from the breastbone.
First, a local anaesthetic is given. Then a strong needle is led through the skin and the outer part of the bone until it reaches the softer, central part of the bone (bone marrow). A syringe is put on the loose end of the needle and some bone marrow is sucked out. This sample is examined under a microscope.