Transthoracic Lung Biopsy


A lung biopsy is usually done to determine the cause of a nodule or mass within the lung. A very thin needle is directed into the nodule using x-ray or CT guidance. Microscopic samples are taken to define the problem.

What Will Be Done

The procedure is done by the hospital’s radiology doctor using a CT scanner or fluoroscopy to localize the spot in the lung. The skin is cleaned and then anesthetized with a novocaine-like drug. The numbing of the skin and pleura (lining of the lung) causes some mild pain but reduces further pain during the biopsy.

A very thin needle is then inserted directly into the lung through the skin. Three to six samples are taken when the tip of the needle is in the proper location. Each sample is examined for abnormal cells or evidence of infection.

The procedure (including waiting time) usually takes four hours. After the procedure you will go to the observation area.


Lung biopsies, like all procedures, have some risks.

The most common complication is a pneumothorax (collapse of part of the lung). Chances of the lung collapsing are greater if the nodule is farther in from the chest wall. If a collapse occurs, it may be necessary to place a small catheter to re-inflate the lung. You may possibly have to be admitted to the hospital.

Other less common complications include coughing up blood or bleeding where the needle entered the skin.

What To Do Before Biopsy

You should drink clear liquids only after midnight, do not eat any food after midnight. No medications (except the skin anesthetic) are usually needed. A mild sedative can be given if desired. Please notify us prior to the procedure if you are taking aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs (Motrin, Advil, Naprosyn, Feldene, etc) or blood thinners (such as Coumadin). You must be off the medication three to seven days before. You may need a test to check your blood clotting time.

What To Expect After Biopsy

Sometimes a mild discomfort occurs at the needle biopsy site. This should resolve within one to two days after the lung biopsy. Patients should not fly for 14 days after the lung biopsy.

If any of the following appear, notify our nurses or the doctor on-call at (763) 520-2940:

  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • Increasing chest pain
  • Fever or coughing up blood.

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