A biopsy determines if a tumour is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If the biopsy is “positive,” cancer is present. If it is “negative,” cancer cells were not seen.

A doctor removes part or all of the tumour or part of the bone marrow. A pathologist, a doctor who specialises in recognising changes caused by disease in humans, looks at the tissue under a microscope.

This Understanding a Biopsy video provides a description of a biopsy to help patients and caregivers feel better prepared for the procedure. By viewing this video beforehand, both caregivers and patients may have less anxiety on the day of the procedure.


This video was made possible by a grant from American Legion Child Welfare Foundation.

Types of Biopsies

There are two kinds of biopsy; which one is undertaken will depend on the area that needs to be biopsied and the age of the patient.

  • Closed Biopsy – A needle is inserted into the tissue to obtain a sample without cutting open the skin
  • Open Biopsy – The skin is opened during surgery to obtain tissue sample.

Some biopsies are done in the operating room under general anaesthesia (completely asleep) and others done using local anaesthesia to numb the skin.

Side Effects of Biopsies

  • Pain is the most common side effect
  • Sometimes the entry site may get infected but this is very rare
  • Bleeding sometimes occurs under the skin or deep where the needle was placed, causing a bit of bruising

Tips for Parents

  • Ask questions about the process. If your child understands what will happen, they will feel more comfortable and less anxious.
  • Keep your child entertained with books, games, music or magazines while waiting for the biopsy to begin.
  • If your child has to have regular biopsies, after-biopsy rituals such as taking your child for an easy-to-digest meal or a movie can make it fun.