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Lung Biopsy

A lung diagnosis can have some very different procedures involved. The methods may vary in comfort and intrusiveness. At times it’s just an icy stethoscope but, in other cases, it might require a more in-depth look. X-rays are a common practice which many people will receive, but perhaps a less common diagnostic tool is a lung biopsy.1

What is a lung biopsy?

A lung biopsy is a procedure intended to remove tissue or cells, from the lungs, for microscopic examination.2 Similar to other biopsies, a lung biopsy is commonly used to test for possible cancer cells or for unusual tissue.1,2

Who needs one?

Not everyone will receive a lung biopsy of any kind. If you have chronic lung pain, then it's a good idea to meet with a doctor and get a thorough evaluation of your lungs. Reasons for a lung biopsy could be the suspicion of:1,3

If you are told that you need to have a biopsy, then it’s good to be prepared. Knowing the different types of lung biopsies is important for your preparation, as some are more involved than others.

What are the different types of lung biopsies?

There are four types of lung biopsies. Each method is used depending on varying circumstances of the condition and under recommendation from a doctor or pulmonologist. There are two general categories: open and closed lung biopsies.2

Closed biopsies include:2

  • Needle biopsy: This requires a local anesthetic. Then, a needle is inserted into the chest where there is the suspicious tissue. This needle is equipped with CT (computed tomography) or fluoroscopy equipment to obtain a tissue sample.
  • Transbronchial biopsy: This is where a fiberoptic camera is inserted into the main airway of the lungs, also called a bronchoscopy. The fiber-optic camera is designed for close-up visual examination as well as tissue sample gathering.
  • Thoracoscopic biopsy: Performed under general anesthetic, an endoscope is inserted into the chest cavity. With the endoscope, various tools of observation and tissue collection can be inserted into the lung cavity for more diagnostic procedures and practices.

An open biopsy is done under general anesthetic as well. However, it involves an incision in the chest and the removal of a piece of lung tissue. During this procedure, a doctor may decide to remove a compromised lung lobe, if necessary. This is the most intrusive lung biopsy procedure and requires an operating room and hospital stay.2

What can you do to prepare?

Preparation for a lung biopsy is similar to other surgical procedures, but can differ depending on the type of biopsy. You may be asked to not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before the procedure.1

It’s good to have a thorough conversation with your doctor about the medication and supplements you are taking as well, in case you have allergies to any medications or anesthetics. If you are diabetic, make sure your doctor knows because your preparation could mean changing medication doses. If you are pregnant, make sure that your doctor is aware so that potentially harmful instruments are not used.1 Again, a good conversation with a doctor that listens is always helpful for a smooth experience.

When a biopsy is a possibility, it’s always good to make a plan for before and after the procedure. It’s possible that anesthetic will be used, and having a safe way of getting home is important. So, talk with a friend or family member about being there for your support.1

Do you have experience with a biopsy?

I have never gone through a lung biopsy, personally. However, I have received a skin biopsy during my encounter with a rare skin condition. Despite being a life long asthmatic, a lung biopsy has never been necessary.

If you have had an experience with a lung biopsy, we would love to hear from you about what you have experienced. Lung biopsies can be a frightening concept, but more knowledge is a good remedy for that fear.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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