What are the Different Types of Tumor Biopsy?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A tumor biopsy is a medical procedure generally used to help diagnose cancer. Tumor biopsies usually involve surgically removing some or all of the tumor, so that physicians can examine it in a laboratory setting and determine whether it displays malignant characteristics. Of the several methods to perform a tumor biopsy, some are most appropriate for internal tumors, while others are more often used on external tumors of the skin. Some types of tumor biopsy, such as punch biopsy or skin biopsy, are routinely performed as outpatient procedures, but others, such as endoscopic biopsy or bone marrow biopsy, may require varying levels of sedation and may even require hospitalization.

Punch biopsy, skin biopsy and shave biopsy are three tumor biopsy procedures usually performed to examine potentially malignant growths of the skin. Patients usually receive local anesthesia during these procedures, to minimize any discomfort. They are, however, normally performed on an outpatient basis.

Punch biopsies are often used to remove a sample of skin tissue that includes both the epidermis and the dermis. Physicians typically perform this type of biopsy using a sharp, hollow tube that can pierce all the way through the skin to the subcutaneous fat layer below.


Shave biopsies are often performed to test for skin cancers, and they usually require that the epidermis be sliced off. Skin biopsies generally use a needle to remove skin tissue for analysis. These procedures are also usually performed with local anesthesia for the patient's benefit. They are normally considered outpatient procedures.

When physicians strongly suspect the presence of malignant melanoma, they often choose to perform an excisional biopsy. This type of tumor biopsy typically seeks to remove the entire tumor, generally by cutting with a scalpel. A similar technique, incisional biopsy, may be used for diagnostic purposes. Incisional biopsy normally leaves some of the tumor behind, and may therefore be a poor diagnostic choice for potentially aggressive cancers.

Bone marrow biopsies are generally performed to remove a sample of bone marrow tissue from the pelvis or sternum. It's normally done with a long syringe, and can be painful. Local anesthetic may be administered.

When tumors appear inside the body, endoscopic biopsy may be used to remove tissue samples. This type of tumor biopsy typically employs an endoscope to both view, and take tissue samples from, an interior tumor. If possible, physicians generally prefer to insert the endoscope through a naturally occurring orifice, but they can also insert it through a miniscule surgical incision.

Aspiration may also be used to remove tissue samples from interior tumors. It requires the use of a small syringe to pull cells from a suspicious tumor. This type of tumor biopsy is often employed to test the lymph nodes for signs of possible metastization.


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