Biopsy tests take a small amount of tissue from your body for further testing in a laboratory. If your physician prescribes a lung biopsy for you, he or she may suspect a lung abnormality that was not adequately diagnosed through other tests.

Lung biopsies are most often used to detect lung cancer, which may require surgery. They can also be used to diagnose sarcoidosis, a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs, or pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes scarring in the lungs. In rare cases, lung biopsies are performed when the cause of severe pneumonia is unknown.

There are several ways that physicians perform lung biopsies; however, it depends on the location of the tissue sample and any other health conditions you might have. Lung biopsies can be performed by:

  • Needle: This type of lung biopsy uses a needle to extract a piece of lung tissue. It is the most commonly used type of lung biopsy.
  • Bronchoscopic: This type of lung biopsy uses a special, lighted scope called a bronchoscope, which is guided through the trachea and into the air passages. Bronchoscopic biopsies are less invasive than open lung biopsies.
  • Open: This type of lung biopsy is a surgical procedure where tissue is removed through an incision between two ribs. Your physician is likely to try other types of biopsies first, using this type only if the other biopsies have been unsuccessful or the tissue sample is difficult to reach.
  • VATS: This type of lung biopsy is also called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery. A tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through incisions in the chest wall. The camera provides visual images used by the surgeon to guide the instruments and take a tissue sample.

What to expect during a lung biopsy

Preparing for your procedure

Do not eat or drink anything for at least eight hours prior to your lung biopsy. Check with your physician to determine if any of your medications should be avoided for the days leading up to your scheduled test. Make sure to bring all of your medications, as well as any herbal or dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications, to the test with you. The surgeon performing a lung biopsy needs to know about your current medications, if you are pregnant and if you have allergies to any type of medicine.

Lung biopsies require a consent form signed by the patient.

During your procedure

During a needle biopsy, an anesthetic is used to numb the area of the skin where the needle is inserted. Although you may feel a brief and sharp pain when the tissue is extracted, most patients do not experience severe pain. During a brochoscopic lung biopsy, a numbing medicine is sprayed into the throat. An IV may be used to administer a mild sedative. Both open lung biopsies and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery lung biopsies are performed under general anesthesia, although a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery lung biopsy is a less-invasive procedure.

After your procedure

After your lung biopsy, a pathologist will closely examine the tissue sample to determine your diagnosis. You will be instructed to rest in bed and avoid lifting heavy objects for a specified amount of time. The length of your recuperation period is determined by the extent of your biopsy.

In addition, it is important to follow all instructions you are given relating to showering or bathing, as well as how to change the biopsy site dressing. Call your physician right away if you experience bleeding, redness, swelling or discharge from your biopsy site. In addition, if you cough up blood or have a full feeling in your chest, shortness of breath or chest pain, call your physician immediately.

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