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Patient Education - Lung Cancer Program at UCLA

Educating yourself about lung cancer:

Procedures: Lung needle biopsy

A needle lung biopsy is performed when there is an abnormal condition that is near the surface of the lung, in the tissues surrounding the lungs, or on the chest wall. The test can be performed to obtain a sample for culture when infection of the lung is suspected, and sputum or bronchoalveolar lavage cultures have not identified the cause of the infection.Lung needle biopsy


A lung needle biopsy is a method to remove a piece of lung tissue for examination.

Alternative Names

Transthoracic needle aspiration; Percutaneous needle aspiration

How the Test is Performed

A chest x-ray or chest CT scan may be used to locate the precise spot of the biopsy. If the biopsy is done using a CT scan, you may be lying down during the exam.

You sit with your arms resting forward on a table. You should try to keep still and not cough during the biopsy. The skin is scrubbed and a local anesthetic is injected.

The surgeon will make a small (about 1/8-inch) cut in the skin, and will insert the biopsy needle into the abnormal tissue, tumor, or lung tissue. A small piece of tissue is removed with the needle and sent to a laboratory for examination.

When done, pressure is placed over the site. Once bleeding has stopped, a bandage is applied.

A chest x-ray is taken immediately after the biopsy.

The procedure usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. Laboratory analysis usually takes a few days.

How to Prepare for the Test

Before a needle biopsy of the lung is conducted, a chest x-ray, chest CT scan, or bronchoscopy may be performed. Sometimes, you will be given a mild sedative before the biopsy. You must sign a consent form. It is important to remain as still as possible for the biopsy and to avoid coughing.

How the Test Will Feel

A lung needle biopsy is preceded by a local injection of anesthetic, which will sting for a moment. You will feel pressure and a brief, sharp pain when the needle touches the lung.

Why the Test is Performed

A needle lung biopsy is performed when there is an abnormal condition that is near the surface of the lung, in the lung itself, or on the chest wall. The test is usually performed to diagnose relatively large abnormalities seen on chest x-ray or CT scan. Most often, the abnormality is not believed to be accessible by other diagnostic techniques, such as bronchoscopy.

Normal Results

Normal tissues and no microbial growth, if a culture is performed, are normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal lung infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Cancerous cells (lung cancer, mesothelioma)
  • Immune disorder

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

  • Metastatic cancer to the lung
  • Pneumonia with lung abscess


The risks include a collapsed lung, bleeding, and infection.

A needle biopsy should NOT be performed if other tests show that you have:

  • Bullae (enlarged alveoli associated with emphysema)
  • Cysts
  • Blood coagulation disorder of any type
  • Severe hypoxia
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Cor pulmonale


Signs of a collapsed lung include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate (rapid pulse)
  • Blueness of the skin

If any of these occur, report them to the health care provider immediately.

Review Date: 11/13/2006
Reviewed By: David A. Kaufman, M.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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