What is Involved in a Lung Cancer Biopsy?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 May 2020
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A lung cancer biopsy is used to check for the presence of lung cancer cells. To diagnose cancer, a doctor usually removes a small sampling of tissue from a patient's lungs. This sample is then examined for cancer cells. There are four different procedures a doctor may use to check for lung cancer. He may perform a bronchoscope, needle, or open biopsy to diagnose lung cancer, or he may use a procedure called video assisted thoracoscopic surgery instead.

One type of lung cancer biopsy is referred to as a bronchoscope biopsy. To perform it, a doctor threads a tool called a bronchoscope, which is equipped with a light, into a patient's mouth or nose and into the lungs. He then uses the instrument to remove a small sampling of tissue from the patient’s airway. Often, this type of lung cancer biopsy is used before an open biopsy, which is more invasive. If doctors can rule out cancer via this type of lung cancer biopsy, a patient may not need a more invasive procedure.

A needle biopsy involves the use of a long needle to gain a sampling of tissue to check for cancer cells. This type of lung cancer biopsy requires a medical professional to insert the needle into the patient’s chest. Usually, this is accomplished with the guidance of a diagnostic imaging scan, such as an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan. A doctor may use this type of biopsy when the suspicious tissue is located near the wall of the chest.

An open lung cancer biopsy is a more invasive procedure for evaluating the presence of lung cancer. For this method, a doctor cuts into the tissue located between a person’s ribs and uses this opening to remove a lung tissue sampling. This type of lung cancer biopsy is often used when doctors need a larger sample to test or when other types of biopsies have failed to produce conclusive results. It may also be used when the position of the suspicious tissue makes it impossible to use another type of technique.

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery may also be used for a lung cancer biopsy. To perform this type of biopsy, a doctor makes a small incision and then inserts a thoracoscope, which is a tube with a light and tiny video camera attached to it, into the chest. Thanks to the camera on the end of the thoracoscope, a doctor can remove a section of lung tissue for testing while viewing images of the patient’s tissues on a monitor.


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