What is a Pleural Biopsy?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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A pleural biopsy is a diagnostic test performed on the lungs if an illness is suspected. The test is performed under medical supervision, and is most often performed as an outpatient procedure. A pleural biopsy can be used to confirm many conditions, such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, and other common lung diseases and infections.

Often, a pleural biopsy is performed after a patient develops too much fluid in the lung cavity, a condition known as pleural effusion. Blood, pus, or other bodily fluids can build up in the lungs as a result of many different conditions, and may cause pain or discomfort to the patient. The procedure allows doctors to get a sample of the lung tissue, which can then be examined through several different tests. Depending on the results, a pleural biopsy may be the vitally important to ensuring a proper diagnosis.

The test is performed by inserting a needle into the chest cavity and extracting sample tissue from the lungs. An anesthetic will usually be applied on and around the insertion site, to dull any pain. It is vitally important that air is prevented from entering the chest during the procedure. A doctor or attendant may direct the patient to exhale or hum during the biopsy for this reason.


Typically, two or three tissue samples are taken during the biopsy. This allows the medical team greater freedom to test the lung samples thoroughly in order to achieve a better diagnosis. Taking several samples can also give a better picture of the lung tissue as a whole; if an infection or cancer is growing, it may be in one spot or all over the lungs. Taking multiple samples ensures that the entire lung cavity is tested for possible problems.

Although the procedure sounds scary, it is usually not very painful and is performed at a health clinic or doctor's office rather than at a hospital. Anesthetic, if used, is usually local rather than general and will not typically affect motor or driving skills. It is often possible to get home from the appointment without any assistance, although some may wish to bring a friend or partner just in case there is a problem

As with most medical procedures, a pleural biopsy has some risks. If air is to get into the chest cavity, the lung may collapse. Doctors are usually aware of this possibility and will be able to treat the collapse immediately, often by using a chest tube to drain excess air from the lung cavity. Even with this risk, a pleural biopsy is often considered a vital test for many lung conditions. If one is recommended, undergoing the procedure as soon as possible may be the key to an accurate diagnosis and a speedy treatment plan.



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