A liver biopsy is a medical procedure in which a sample of tissue from a patient's liver is removed for analysis. Liver biopsies are used to gather information about suspected liver disorders, such as hepatocellular carcinomas, and the procedure is typically performed in a hospital environment. There are several different biopsy techniques which can be used to remove the sample, with a doctor selecting a technique on the basis of personal preference and the patient's situation.
In a needle biopsy, which is often guided by ultrasound or another imaging technique, a doctor carefully inserts a needle into the liver and takes a small sample. In open or surgical biopsy, the patient's abdomen is accessed surgically in order to remove a portion of the liver. Once the sample is removed, it can be taken for a pathology lab for analysis. The pathologist will look for abnormalities such as cells which do not belong or large fat deposits, and generate a report for the physician who ordered the liver biopsy.
Anesthetic is used during the procedure to keep the patient comfortable. With needle biopsies, a local anesthetic is usually all that is required, while surgical biopsies necessitate general anesthesia. The risks of a liver biopsy are significantly lower with a needle biopsy, but they can include hemorrhage, bleeding, and pneumothorax. Very rarely, the patient may need to be hospitalized as a result of complications from a liver biopsy. Surgical biopsies require a longer healing time after the procedure, and they carry the risks associated with anesthesia.
If the results of a liver biopsy are normal, no further action may be required. Questionable or inconclusive results may necessitate further testing, including the possibility of another liver biopsy to get a better sample. If the test reveals something like the presence of cancerous cells, the doctor can discuss the condition and the treatment options with the patient.
When a doctor recommends a liver biopsy, a patient should ask about the risks and healing time involved with the particular procedure which will be used. He or she should also ask why the biopsy is being performed, what the implications of various results might be, and how long it will take to get results. Some other considerations include how long the procedure will take, whether or not it will be necessary to get a ride home afterwards, and whether or not other tests can or should be conducted at the same time.