What is a Needle Aspiration Biopsy?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 December 2018
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Although a lump of any kind can be frightening, a needle aspiration biopsy will help determine whether the lump is cancerous. In essence, a needle aspiration biopsy, also called fine needle aspiration cytology, is a procedure that is used to extract the matter that comprises a lump –- it extracts fluid if the lump is a cyst and cells if the lump is a solid mass. The needle is thin and hollow and it is attached to a syringe. It is inserted through the skin and is safe and less invasive than other options, such as surgery.

There are three main reasons why a needle aspiration biopsy is performed. First, it can determine the nature of a lump. Specifically, if a new lump is discovered, it can help determine whether it is cancerous. Second, it can help determine whether a pre-existing lump has been affected by treatment, such as radiation. Third, it can be used to extract tissue or cells for additional studies.

In general, a needle aspiration biopsy is a brief, uncomplicated procedure – taking only a few minutes. It is typically preformed by a skilled medical doctor, often by a cytologist, a cyto-pathologist or a radiologist. The main side-effects from the procedure are bruising and sensitivity in the area where the sample was taken.


The steps taken to perform a needle aspiration biopsy are straightforward. Before the procedure begins, the skin in the area that is to be biopsied is wiped with an antiseptic solution. In some circumstances, a local anesthetic can be used to numb the area, as well. Once the lump is located, the needle is inserted into it and several samples may be taken. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Although there are very few risks involved with performing a needle aspiration biopsy, some do exist. For example, it is possible to lulled into a false sense of security and receive a negative biopsy result when there are cancerous cells present. This may only occur in the rare circumstance that the cancerous cells are missed by the needle.

In some cases, the lump may be quite small. Then, an ultrasound machine or mammography machine may be used to x-ray the area. Therefore, the doctor can be sure to insert the needle in the correct spot. By using additional aids, it may reduce the likelihood of receiving a false positive, as well; although there is no guarantee.



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