Content under review

Due to the pandemic, there have been delays in us updating this information as quickly as we would have wanted. Our team is working hard to put this right.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is when the doctor removes a small sample (biopsy) from the lump or abnormal area. The sample is then sent to the laboratory and looked at under a microscope. This test checks that the abnormal area is cancer. It also finds out more about the type and grade of the cancer.

You may have a biopsy to help diagnose ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer or primary peritoneal cancer.

Having a biopsy for cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum

If your first treatment is likely to be surgery to remove a tumour, biopsies are often taken during your operation. Sometimes a biopsy is needed before any treatment starts, to check that your symptoms are definitely caused by cancer and not by another condition. For example, you may have this test if your doctor thinks you need chemotherapy as your first treatment.

If you need a biopsy before treatment, this will usually be an image guided biopsy. Some people have surgery to take biopsies. This is less common.

Image guided biopsy

Your doctor numbs your skin using a local anaesthetic injection. You may also have a sedative to help you relax. The doctor passes a needle through the skin, using a CT or ultrasound scan to guide them to the right place. They collect a small sample from the abnormal area with the needle.

You will usually stay in hospital for a few hours after this test, and sometimes overnight.

Surgery to take biopsies

This is usually done with an operation called a laparoscopy (or keyhole surgery). You have a general anaesthetic. You can usually go home later the same day or the next day.

The surgeon makes three or four small cuts in the lower abdomen. The cuts are about 1cm long. The surgeon pumps some gas into the abdomen to lift up the tummy wall, so the organs can be seen clearly. The surgeon then puts a thin tube with a tiny camera on the end into the abdomen. This is called a laparoscope. They examine the area carefully and take biopsies.

You may have discomfort in your neck or shoulder after the operation. This will go away after a day or two. Walking may help. Some people have cramps or painful wind in the tummy. Taking sips of peppermint water and moving around can help. Your nurse can give you advice about taking peppermint water.

Sometimes an operation called a laparotomy is done instead. The surgeon uses one larger cut to open the abdomen and look inside. If cancer is found, they may then operate to remove the cancer. This is only done if you and your doctor have discussed it and you have agreed (consented) to it before the operation.

About our information

  • Ovarian cancer references

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Fotopoulou C, et al. British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) epithelial ovarian/ fallopian tube/ primary peritoneal cancer guidelines: recommendations for practice. European Journal of Obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. 2017. 213: 123-139.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Ovarian cancer: recognition and initial management. Clinical guideline (CG122). April 2011. Available from: (accessed June 2017). 

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor David Luesley, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.