Introducing: Ask a Doctor
At UTHSC ENT, we understand that patients need clear, helpful answers to their questions. We also know that a flood of new information can be overwhelming.
That’s why our department’s introducing Ask a Doctor: an ongoing series of posts that tackle Frequently Asked Questions about common issues. We hope these articles give you a better understanding of your situation and an easy path to treatment.
Today, we outline a common procedure: the biopsy.
Prepared by: Pranay Manda
Reviewed by: Dr. Sandra Stinnett
What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is a simple procedure where the physician takes a sample of your tissue (e.g. thyroid, lymph node, gums, salivary gland) and sends it to a lab to be examined.
If a physician suspects you may have signs of disease such as chronic inflammation, growth, or cancer, a biopsy may be performed in order to determine how to best treat your condition.
Though routinely used to diagnose cancers, biopsies can also be used for diagnosing many other conditions that may be inflammatory or autoimmune.
How are biopsies performed?
1) Fine needle aspiration
This is one of the least invasive ways biopsies are performed. The physician will stick a needle with a hollow core into the tissue of interest and take out a very small portion of tissue. Often these biopsies are aided with ultrasound guidance.
2) Incisional biopsy
An incisional biopsy involves making a few small incisions to remove a piece of tissue. You could think of it like cutting out a slice of pie from the tissue of interest.
3) Excisional biopsy
Excisional biopsy is where an entire lesion is cut out, removed, and sent to the lab.
4) Awake laryngeal biopsies with fiberoptic laryngoscopy
In this procedure, a very thin and long camera is inserted through your nasal cavity and guided to the larynx, where the lesion of interest is visualized. After proper assessment and numbing, a specialized set of forceps is guided through the oral cavity and is used to retrieve a small piece of tissue from the larynx.
Generally, you will be observed for a short period of time (around 15 minutes) and sent home afterwards.
5) Microdirect laryngoscopy
This is similar to the awake laryngeal biopsy where a small camera is directed into the larynx and using an array of tools, a small excision of tissue is retrieved and subsequently analyzed. You will be discharged following the procedure.
You will be instructed to not use your voice in any way at all for the following 48 hours. Additionally, you will be asked to adhere to the “arm’s-length rule” for two weeks, where you shouldn’t speak at a volume greater than needed when speaking to someone an arm’s-length away!
Generally this procedure is used for biopsies that require more precision compared to the awake laryngeal biopsy.
(Note: if you’d like to learn more about microlaryngoscopy, read this recent article!)
What can I expect from a biopsy?
1) Are there risks involved?
Depending on the tissue and type of biopsy performed, there is varying risk with biopsies. Generally, biopsies are not considered risky but with all medical procedures, there are risks involved.
Some risks include: bleeding, infection, seeding of cancerous tissue, and reaction to local anesthetic.
2) Will I experience any symptoms post-biopsy?
You can expect to feel slight pain and tenderness in the area following the procedure.
3) Will I be put to sleep for this procedure?
In most cases, local anesthesia will be given prior to the procedure.
Biopsies are mostly out-patient procedures so we will be able to have you out quickly so you may proceed with the rest of your day normally!
How can our Dream Team help?
UTHSC ENT’s Dream Team provides world class treatment in your hometown. If you’d like a consultation, we’d love to hear from you!