What to Expect in a Lung Needle Biopsy?

A lung needle biopsy might be required if your doctor finds something out of the ordinary on the chest X-ray or CT scan. A lung needle biopsy is a medical procedure that is used to get a tiny sample of lung tissue, which is then examined under a microscope. Whatever may be the reason behind your doctor prescribing a lung needle biopsy, but for sure, you must be having a lot of questions about how lung needle biopsy is done and how to prepare for the procedure. Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect in a lung needle biopsy.

What is a Lung Needle Biopsy?

A lung needle biopsy is a medical procedure that is used for getting a tiny sample of lung tissue, which is then examined under the microscope. This biopsy is used for diagnosing any irregular area of tissue growing in the lungs. It is one of the most common diagnostic tests used for diagnosing lung cancer. A lung needle biopsy is also known as percutaneous needle aspiration.(1)

Why Do You Need A Lung Needle Biopsy?

Your doctor is likely to prescribe a lung needle biopsy in order to get a closer look at any abnormality found on a chest CT scan, X-ray, or any other imaging test. The primary goal of a lung needle biopsy is to make an accurate diagnosis of what type of abnormality has been observed in the chest.

Lung needle biopsy procedure can be used for:

  • Determining whether a lung mass or lung tissue is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign)
  • To determine the stage of a malignant lung tumor
  • To monitor the progression of lung disease
  • To find out why fluid has collected in the lung
  • To diagnose a lung infection
  • To identify the cause of inflammation in the lungs

A lung needle biopsy can also be performed on its own without requiring any other imaging tests. Or, it can also be done with other diagnostic tests, such as:

  1. A mediastinoscopy in which a special scope is inserted through an incision made in the chest. The doctor then collects lymph node tissue for further testing.(2)
  2. A bronchoscopy, in which a scope is inserted into the throat through the mouth, and eventually into the airways in the lungs. This allows the doctor to look at different parts of the lungs.(3)

What to Expect in a Lung Needle Biopsy?

A specialist referred to as an interventional radiologist is the one who performs the lung needle biopsy with the help of either a CT scan or some other type of imaging scan.

Here’s What To Expect Before The Lung Needle Biopsy:

  • Your radiologist will first indicate the exact place where the needle has to be placed by drawing and marking the skin with a marker.
  • You will have an intravenous line inserted into a vein in one of your hands or arms. This line will be used to deliver sedation medication so that you become sleepy.
  • A nurse or technician will position you properly on the table and clean the skin over the biopsy site using an antiseptic. They will then inject the anesthetic to numb the biopsy area. This might sting a little.

What To Expect During The Lung Needle Biopsy:

  • Your radiologist will use a biopsy needle that is several inches long. The design of the biopsy needle allows them to easily obtain the tissue sample. A biopsy needle is wider than the needles that are used for regular injections. It is also hollow.(4)
  • A tiny incision will be made in the skin to allow the biopsy needle to be inserted easily.
  • How much of the biopsy needle gets inserted depends on the actual location of the abnormal lung tissue that has to be examined.
  • The radiologist will then obtain samples of the abnormal tissue.
  • This stage may make you feel a sharp pain, or you may feel pressure in that area.
  • You will be asked to lie still and avoid coughing during the procedure.
  • Once the radiologist is ready to remove the sample, you will be instructed to hold your breath.
  • Depending on your doctor’s instructions, several tissue samples might be required.

What To Expect After The Lung Needle Biopsy:

  • The needle is removed after the tissue sample has been obtained.
  • Pressure will be applied to the insertion site to control any bleeding.
  • Once the bleeding stops, the site will be bandaged.
  • If an incision is made, then you may require one or more stitches to close up the incision.
  • The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.
  • A regular lung needle biopsy is completed in less than an hour.
  • If you are sedated, then it might take a day or two to recover from the medication. In such cases, it is best to have someone drive you home and take care of you until the medication wears off.
  • You should also discuss with your doctor about how long you need to rest before you can return to work or school following Lung Needle Biopsy procedure. Also, enquire about any restrictions, such as strenuous exercise or lifting heavy objects.

Some people may cough up a little bit of blood after the biopsy. If you are concerned about this, then you should talk to your doctor.

You might also need to take some pain relievers to manage any discomfort after the biopsy. You should avoid taking aspirin or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as they increase the risk of bleeding after a biopsy. Instead, take a non-aspirin pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen). Your doctor may also prescribe a pain reliever.

If you notice any of the following symptoms after the biopsy, you should immediately inform your doctor:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Bleeding from the biopsy site
  • Coughing up more than a little bit of blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drainage or redness at the biopsy site

Are There Any Risks of a Lung Needle Biopsy?

Lung needle biopsies are considered to be generally safe for everyone. However, as with any type of medical procedure, there is a small degree of risk. These include:

Conclusion

Once the abnormal lung tissue sample has been examined, a complete report is sent to your doctor. It might take a couple of days to get the report, and the doctor will contact you once the results have been received.

Depending on the findings of the lung needle biopsy, your doctor might order further diagnostic tests. Once the final diagnosis has been determined, a treatment plan will be developed, or your doctor will refer you to other specialists.

Keep in mind that you should wait for your doctor to tell you when it is safe to resume your daily activities after the biopsy. If you are uncertain or concerned about anything, then you should consult your doctor.

References:

  1. Mazzone, P., Jain, P., Arroliga, A.C. and Matthay, R.A., 2002. Bronchoscopy and needle biopsy techniques for diagnosis and staging of lung cancer. Clinics in chest medicine, 23(1), pp.137-58.
  2. Ashbaugh, D.G., 1970. Mediastinoscopy. Archives of Surgery, 100(5), pp.568-573.
  3. Prakash, U.B. and Matthay, R.A., 1994. Bronchoscopy. Journal of Bronchology & Interventional Pulmonology, 1(4), p.340.
  4. Wang, K.P., Wang Ko P, 1989. Percutaneous aspiration lung biopsy needle assembly. U.S. Patent 4,799,494.

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