A lung biopsy removes a small piece of lung tissue that can be looked at under a microscope. The biopsy can be done in several ways. The method used depends on where the sample will be taken from and your overall health. Methods are:
- Bronchoscopic biopsy. A lighted tool called a bronchoscope is inserted through the mouth or nose and into the airway to remove a lung tissue sample. This method may be used if an infectious disease is suspected, if the abnormal lung tissue is located next to the breathing tubes (bronchi), or before trying more invasive methods, such as an open lung biopsy.
- Needle biopsy. A long needle is inserted through the chest wall to remove a sample of lung tissue. This method is used if the abnormal lung tissue is close to the chest wall. A computed tomography (CT) scan, an ultrasound, or fluoroscopy is usually used to guide the needle to the abnormal tissue.
- Open biopsy. This method uses surgery to make a cut (incision) between the ribs and remove a sample of lung tissue. It is usually done when the other methods of lung biopsy have not been successful or can't be used, or when a larger piece of lung tissue is needed for a diagnosis.
- Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). VATS uses a scope (called a thoracoscope) passed through a small incision in the chest to remove a sample of lung tissue.
What are the risks of a lung biopsy?
A lung biopsy is generally a safe procedure. Any risk depends on if you have a lung disease and how severe it is. If you already have severe breathing problems, your breathing may be worse for a short time after the biopsy.
Bronchoscopic and needle biopsies are usually safer than open or VATS biopsies. But the VATS and open biopsies are more likely to allow a good sample of lung to be removed. A good sample helps determine what the lung problem is and what treatment choices are. Bronchoscope and needle biopsies don't need general anesthesia and cause fewer problems. And you don't need to stay overnight in the hospital. Your doctor will discuss any risks with you.
- Lung biopsy may make you more likely to get a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) during the biopsy. Your doctor may need to place a tube in your chest to keep your lung inflated while the biopsy site heals.
- Severe bleeding (hemorrhage) may occur.
- An infection such as pneumonia may occur. But usually such infections can be treated with antibiotics.
- Spasms of the bronchial tubes can occur, which can cause trouble breathing right after the biopsy.
- Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) can occur.
- People with severe lung disease have a very small chance of dying from the biopsy. But this is rare. If you receive general anesthesia, there is an extremely small chance of death from complications linked to general anesthesia.