A biopsy is the removal of tissue in order to examine it for disease. The tissue samples can be taken from any part of the body. Biopsies are performed in several different ways. Some biopsies involve removing a small amount of tissue with a needle while others involve surgically removing an entire lump, or nodule, that is suspicious.

Often, the tissue is removed by placing a needle through the skin to the area of abnormality. Biopsies can be safely performed with imaging guidance such as ultrasound, X-ray,computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These types of imaging are used to determine exactly where to place the needle and perform the biopsy.

What you should know

Before your visit

Most needle biopsies are performed as an “outpatient”, which means you go home after the procedure and are not admitted to the hospital. 

The preparations for a biopsy vary and it is important that you follow the instructions necessary for the kind of appointment you will be having.  Please be sure to confirm which instructions apply to you, as some important ones include:

  • You may be instructed to not eat or drink for eight hours before your biopsy.
  • Some medications such as blood thinners should not be used for seven days before your biopsy date. Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Advil or Motrin should not be used for seven days before your biopsy.
  • If taking your routine medications is allowed. If you are diabetic and take insulin, you should talk to your physician as your usual insulin dose may need to be adjusted.
  • The length of time it will involve you being at the hospital, from your necessary arrival time until we have completed all post-procedural monitoring and discharge you home. Some biopsies (such as lung, liver and kidney) require bloodwork also be taken on the morning of the procedure upon arriving at the hospital.
  • For any biopsies involving sedation we do require that you make arrangements to be driven home by someone else. If you cannot make alternate driving arrangements we will require that you remain at the hospital until all sedative effects have worn off before driving yourself home. For some biopsies that involve local tissue freezing we may still recommend that someone else drive you home when possible.
After your visit

Before you go home you will be given the after care instructions that are important for the kind of biopsy you had.  Some of these may include directions on how long you should rest after the biopsy, how long to leave on any bandages/dressings, when you can resume taking your medications, when you can eat and drink afterwards, etc.

If pain medication is needed, you may take acetaminophen (Tylenol only; do not take aspirin for two days after the procedure.

  • Call your physician if you experience severe bleeding, pain, swelling, excessive bruising or significant redness and heat.
  • Call your physician for results and follow up; it may take 7 to 10 working days for your physician to receive your results.

Download the general biopsy brochure

Care provider

Imaging-guided needle biopsies are most often performed by a specially trained radiologist or interventional radiologist, assisted by an imaging technologist and/or a nurse. To learn more about these health professionals please see:

  • Ontario Association of Radiologists - What is a radiologist
  • College of Medical Radiation Technologists of Ontario - About MRTs
  • - Sonographers are medical professionals
  • - The changing image of radiology nursing

Frequently asked questions

Why are biopsies performed?

When a nodule is detected, imaging tests may be performed to help determine if it is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If imaging studies cannot clearly define the abnormality, a biopsy may be necessary.

What body parts are usually biopsied?

Biopsies are performed in many areas of the body and for many reasons. The following is a list of common biopsy types: bone, breast, kidneys, liver, lung, thyroid and prostate.

How long does the procedure take?

The procedure is usually completed within one hour. You may be required to stay in an area for observation for several hours after the biopsy, depending on the type of biopsy performed.