A liver biopsy is a procedure that involves removing a small sample of liver tissue for analysis under a microscope. Liver biopsy results should come back within a few days, but several factors can cause delays.

Some people may feel stressed or worried while they are waiting to receive the results, but there are steps they can take to mitigate these feelings.

This article outlines how long a person will typically need to wait to receive the results of a liver biopsy and looks at the different biopsy procedures available.

It also provides tips on what to do while waiting for the results and explains what happens during the follow-up appointment.

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A person may need to wait several days to a week to receive their liver biopsy results. Once a laboratory receives the biopsy sample, it typically takes 1–2 days for the pathologists to analyze the sample and forward the results to the doctor.

However, the results can get delayed in coming back to the doctor’s office. Some factors that can cause a delay include the need for:

  • mail, if the laboratory is separate from the hospital
  • a second opinion
  • specialized tests or dyes
  • a follow-up biopsy

Below are the three main types of liver biopsies. The type affects what a person can expect during the procedure and the recovery phase.

Percutaneous liver biopsy

A percutaneous liver biopsy involves making a small incision in the abdomen and inserting a long needle to remove a small liver sample. The doctor may use an ultrasound or CT scan to ensure that they correctly position the needle for the biopsy.

This procedure takes place under local anesthesia, meaning that a person will be awake for the procedure but unable to feel any pain in the incision area.

Following the procedure, a person will likely need to stay in the hospital for several hours for observation. This will help reduce the risk of possible complications.

Transjugular liver biopsy

A transjugular liver biopsy involves inserting a long tube through the jugular vein in the neck and sliding a long needle through the tubing and into a vein in the liver. A doctor then uses the needle to remove a small sample of liver tissue.

Local anesthesia is necessary, and the person will likely need to stay in the hospital for several hours for observation.

Surgical liver biopsy

There are two types of surgical liver biopsy: open and laparoscopic.

During open surgery, a surgeon will access the liver via a large incision in the abdomen.

In contrast, laparoscopic surgery involves accessing the liver via small “keyhole” incisions and removing a sample using specialized equipment. The latter has a shorter recovery time and a lower risk of infection.

A person should talk with their doctor about what to expect during recovery and ask whether there are any special instructions on preparing for the procedure.

Laboratories typically send liver biopsy results directly to a doctor’s office. They may do so through electronic communication, fax, or mail services.

Once the doctor receives the results, they will add them to the person’s medical file. They will also schedule a follow-up call or in-office appointment to review the results with the person and answer any questions they may have.

Waiting for biopsy results can sometimes be worrying and stressful. Although it can be difficult to wait, the pathologists must have time to examine the sample thoroughly, as this will increase the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis.

People may find the following helpful while waiting for medical test results:

  • keeping active and engaging in activities that they enjoy
  • surrounding themselves with friends and family for support
  • writing down their thoughts and worries
  • thinking about questions they may want to ask the doctor during the follow-up appointment
  • avoiding researching too much online, as the information might not be applicable, and it may cause unnecessary worry
  • trying not to assume the worst
  • speaking with a doctor regarding any concerns

A person who undergoes a liver biopsy will typically need to attend a follow-up appointment. Their healthcare team will check their incisions and look for signs of infection and other surgical complications.

A doctor will also schedule a follow-up phone call or in-office appointment to discuss the liver biopsy results. During the appointment, they will explain the results of the biopsy and talk through any necessary treatments or further tests.

The results of a liver biopsy can help a doctor diagnose liver disease or damage and indicate the severity of the disease.

In some cases, the biopsy results may be inconclusive, and the person may need another liver biopsy procedure.

If a person receives a diagnosis, their doctor will likely discuss the next steps, including the treatment options.

The treatment options can vary greatly depending on the condition. For example, a person with liver scarring, known as fibrosis, may require treatments to prevent the condition from progressing to a severe and less treatable form of scarring called cirrhosis.

A person with liver cancer may require different treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or surgery to remove the tumor. In some cases, a person may require a liver transplant.

Liver biopsy results typically come back from the lab within 1–2 days, but they can take up to a week to process due to factors outside a doctor’s control.

Waiting for the results of a medical procedure can be worrying and stressful for some people. These individuals may benefit from keeping themselves occupied with activities they enjoy and surrounding themselves with friends and family who offer comfort and support. They may also want to write down any questions they would like to ask the doctor at their follow-up appointment.

Once a doctor receives the results, a person will have either a telephone call or a follow-up appointment to discuss the results in person. During the call or appointment, the doctor will review the results and discuss the next steps, which may include making a treatment plan or undergoing additional tests.