What is a Lung Biopsy?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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A lung biopsy is done to help diagnose various lung problems, including pulmonary fibrosis. It is also often performed to help determine if an abnormal growth in the lung is cancerous. The procedure involves taking a sample of lung tissue. A pathologist will than examine the tissue sample under the microscope and look for abnormalities. Result times may vary slightly, however most patients will receive a result from their biopsy about four days after the procedure.

There are several different ways a lung biopsy can be done. The type of biopsy done depends on the location of the abnormality and the size of the sample needed. The physician performing the biopsy will also consider the patient’s condition and how well he or she will tolerate certain types of procedures.

One of the least invasive methods to obtain a lung sample is through a bronchoscope biopsy. This involves inserting an instrument through the nose into the lung. The bronchoscope has a light and often a camera on the end of it. A sample can be taken through a suction catheter attached to the bronchoscope.


A needle biopsy is another option which may be used. While viewing an image of the lung from a CT scan, the doctor guides a long needle into the lungs. The needle is inserted through the chest wall. If a mass or other type of abnormality is thought to be close to the chest wall, this may be the preferred type of lung biopsy.

Both a needle lung biopsy and a bronchoscope biopsy are relatively quick and are often done on an outpatient basis. Most patients will need to spend a few hours in the recover room after the procedure. Both types of procedures are usually performed without general anesthesia.

There are times when a large sample is needed from the lung, or other less invasive types of biopsies don’t work. If that occurs an open biopsy may be needed. This involves surgery to remove a piece of lung tissue.

During an open biopsy, which is a more invasive type of lung biopsy, general anesthesia is required. An incision is made between the ribs and a sample is taken. A chest tube will be put in after the tissue sample is taken. The tube helps keep the lung inflated while the incision heals. Most patients will spend at least a few days in the hospital after the procedure.

A lung biopsy is considered safe, however patients are informed about possible complications and risks from the procedure. The likelihood of complications depends partly on what type of lung biopsy was done and the patient’s condition prior to the biopsy. Risks include bleeding, a collapsed lung and infection.


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