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What are Biopsy Needles?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Biopsy needles are needles which are specifically designed for the purpose of taking biopsy samples. In a biopsy procedure, a sample of tissue is removed from the body for further study. Biopsies are often used to investigate suspicious tissue in the body such as lumps in the breasts, and a number of different techniques can be used to perform a biopsy, depending on the nature of the tissue sample being taken, and the doctor's preference.

In a surgical biopsy, the doctor cuts into the patient and removes a sample of tissue. This procedure can be painful and invasive, and it exposes the patient to an increased risk of complications such as infection. Needle biopsies, by contrast, rely on the use of a large-bore needle to remove a sample of the tissue, essentially taking a core sample from the patient. In a crude illustration of how a needle biopsy works, imagine inserting a straw into a cupcake and then pulling it out again to extract a small chunk of the cupcake.

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In a basic needle biopsy, a big needle is inserted into the area of interest and then carefully pulled out to remove the desired sample. Both soft tissue and bone can be sampled with biopsy needles. In fine needle aspiration biopsies, a smaller needle is inserted and a syringe is used to create a vacuum which gently pulls the tissue of interest into the needle. Vacuum-assisted biopsies can be used to take a sample and to remove small distinct lumps with the use of vacuum suction and large-bore biopsy needles.

Doctors can use biopsy needles by feel, using one hand to locate the area of interest and the other to manipulate the needle, or they may use medical imaging for assistance. When an area of suspicious tissue cannot be palpated or clearly identified, ultrasound-guided biopsy may be utilized, with the ultrasound pinpointing the area of interest so that the doctor can be assured that the sample is taken from the right place.

In a hybrid version of the needle and surgical biopsy, some doctors perform a wire localization biopsy, in which a very thin wire is inserted into the body and used to flag an area of interest. The wire is fixed in place so that the patient can be taken into a surgical suite for a surgical biopsy, with the surgeon using the wire as a guide to take a sample from the correct area.

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