A lung biopsy is a form of medical operation. The procedure often involves the removal of tissue or growths from the lungs.

There are various reasons why a doctor might recommend a lung biopsy. They may choose from several types of biopsy, depending on the type most suitable for the individual.

In many cases, a biopsy may not be suitable for the individual concerned.

People can experience some anxiety ahead of a biopsy. However, understanding the nature of the procedure, as well as the risks and benefits, can help someone feel more comfortable beforehand.

In this article, we look at when a lung biopsy is necessary, the types of procedure, and what to expect before, during, and afterward.

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The type of biopsy will affect what happens during the procedure.

Needle biopsy procedure

When abnormal tissue has developed near to the chest wall, a specialist may perform a needle biopsy to collect this tissue.

A person does not need general anesthesia for a needle biopsy. The procedure also does not require a hospital stay.

The doctor inserts a needle into the lung through the skin, using either an X-ray or CT image for guidance.

The procedure can take up to 1 hour. An individual may need to fast for 8 hours ahead of the appointment.

Open biopsy

A doctor might request this procedure when they need to remove a lump completely or partially. When a surgeon removes a lump entirely, they call the procedure a lumpectomy.

The doctor will request an imaging test to locate the growth or lump. They may also place a wire or needle in the area to guide the procedure. Surgeons perform this type of biopsy in an operating room.

They will place the individual under general anesthesia and open the chest cavity to retrieve the tissue.

Bronchoscopic biopsy

Doctors use this procedure to collect a sample of lung tissue that is close to the airway. A specialist inserts a device called a bronchoscope into the lungs via the nose or mouth.

This procedure can take up to an hour to complete.

Here, learn more about bronchoscopy.

Who will need a lung biopsy?

A lung biopsy procedure is sometimes necessary to help diagnose a condition, usually cancer.

A doctor will often recommend biopsy testing after they identify abnormalities in the chest during a CT scan or chest X-ray.

The procedure may be necessary for people who have suspected cancer in the chest, such as lung cancer. A lung biopsy can determine whether any unusual masses are malignant, meaning cancerous, or benign, meaning noncancerous.

If a biopsy finds a mass on the lungs is cancerous, the results can help a doctor determine the stage of cancer and the treatment.

A lung biopsy procedure can sometimes help a doctor diagnose the cause of a noncancerous condition. For example, it may help them diagnose an infection or why fluid is collecting in the lungs.

How to prepare for a lung biopsy varies, depending on the type of biopsy taking place. A healthcare professional can provide advice relating to the specific type of procedure someone is having.

For some types of lung biopsy procedures, an individual may need to fast beforehand. A healthcare professional will advise if this is necessary.

The doctor overseeing the lung biopsy procedure should be aware of any medications the individual may be taking. They will advise whether to continue with the medications before the procedure or not.

If the person receiving a biopsy is pregnant, they may not be able to undergo certain procedures. This is because they require scans that can give off radiation. This radiation may be harmful to a developing fetus.

A doctor should assess any important considerations, such as allergies or pregnancy, before recommending the procedure.

Making plans for after the biopsy is a good idea. For instance, arranging reliable transport home ahead of time can help reduce postoperative stress and inconvenience, particularly if the doctor is using a sedative.

The likely recovery time after a lung biopsy procedure will depend on a range of factors, including the type of procedure and any complications.

If a person requires a general anesthetic, they may also need to stay in the hospital. For a local anesthetic, the doctor may be able to release the individual as soon as their blood pressure and pulse stabilize.

A doctor may perform scans after the procedure to rule out complications.

People should rest for several days after a lung biopsy. They should also avoid physical exertion until a medical professional advises that it is safe.

Recovery takes longer in people who receive thoracic surgery for an open biopsy.

One or more follow-up appointments will be necessary to discuss the results of the biopsy.

All invasive procedures carry some risk. The risks will vary depending on the type of procedure and the reason for the biopsy.

A needle based lung biopsy procedure carries a risk of a collapsed lung. When a specialist inserts the needle into the lungs, it may create a gap where air can escape. The doctor may carry out an X-ray several hours after the procedure to check for any leaking air.

A person may have a sore throat after a lung biopsy procedure that involves placing a tube through the nose or mouth to access the lungs. Various postoperative measures can help relieve a sore throat, including gargling salt water or using throat lozenges.

The site of a needle biopsy may feel tender or sore for a few days after the procedure.

A person should keep any bandages clean to avoid infection. After several days, these bandages are usually safe to remove.

Open lung biopsies often require hospitalization for several days. Risks can depend on the amount of lung tissue that a surgeon removes. If a doctor recommends an open biopsy, it is best to discuss surgical risks with them before the procedure.

Risks may include:

  • dental damage due to bronchoscopy or anesthesia equipment
  • blood pressure changes
  • chest infection
  • pain in the shoulder
  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • rapid heartbeat
  • cardiac events, such as heart attack or stroke after surgery

An individual may not be able to drink fluids immediately after an open lung biopsy. They may have to receive fluids through intravenous tubes until they can drink again.

If a person experiences the following symptoms after a lung biopsy, they should seek immediate medical attention:

  • serious chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up blood
  • fever

For some people, the recovery time for lung biopsy procedures can be relatively short.

Needle biopsy procedures can be a reliable method for obtaining tissue samples and diagnosing growths as cancerous or noncancerous.

Lung biopsy procedures are not usually painful and have few risks that doctors associate with them.

A doctor will only recommend a lung biopsy procedure to support their diagnosis. For example, if a person has smaller lung nodules, a biopsy may be too risky and difficult to justify.

However, when it is medically necessary, a biopsy can shape an individual’s outlook and treatment plan for a condition such as lung cancer.


What other tests can identify lung cancer?


If lung cancer is suspected, a healthcare professional will often perform a CT scan of the chest if there is an abnormal finding on a chest X-ray.

Laboratory studies, such as a complete blood count, electrolytes, liver function tests, kidney function test, and calcium levels, can also help determine if lung cancer is likely.

However, the definitive test for lung cancer identification is a biopsy to examine a piece of lung tissue for cancer cells.

Elaine K. Luo, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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