Bone biopsy

A bone biopsy is used to help diagnose primary bone cancer. It is also sometimes used to help diagnose secondary bone cancer.

What is a bone biopsy?

The doctor may take a sample of cells from the tumour. This is called a biopsy.

A bone biopsy means the doctor takes a sample of cells from an area of bone to be checked under the microscope.

This test is used to help diagnose a cancer that starts in the bone (primary bone cancer). It is also sometimes used to diagnose cancer that has spread to the bones from another part of the body (secondary bone cancer). It is usually done at a specialist bone cancer centre.

The sample is sent to a specialist doctor called a pathologist with experience in bone tumours. They look at cells from the sample under a microscope to tell if the tumour is a cancer or not. If it is a cancer, your doctors may do further tests on the sample to find out the type of bone cancer.

If your doctor thinks you have bone cancer, the biopsy should be done at a specialist bone cancer centre. The type of biopsy you have depends on where the lump is and its size.

A bone biopsy is different to a bone marrow biopsy. We have separate information about having a bone marrow test.

Having a core needle biopsy for bone cancer

A core needle biopsy is the most common type of biopsy. The doctor uses a small hollow needle to take a small sample of the bone tumour. They usually take several samples.

Before the biopsy, the doctor injects a local anaesthetic into the skin around the lump to numb the area.

You will usually be awake during a needle biopsy. But the doctor may give you a sedative so that you feel relaxed and sleepy. Sometimes the biopsy is taken under a general anaesthetic. That means you are asleep during the test.

You may have a scan such as a CT, ultrasound or x-ray during the biopsy. The pictures from the scan help the doctor guide the needle to the right place.

Having an incision biopsy

In an incision biopsy, the surgeon removes a small piece of bone during a small operation. The surgeon uses a surgical knife called a scalpel to open the affected area. A sample from the lump is then taken. This is done under a general anaesthetic.

This type of biopsy is not often used, because the needle biopsy is much quicker and easier.

You may need this if:

  • you cannot have a needle biopsy
  • the surgeon needs a slightly bigger piece of bone for diagnosis
  • you had a needle biopsy that did not give a clear result.

Booklets and resources

We have an easy read booklet about the different types of biopsy and what happens when you have one. Our easy read booklets use simple language and pictures to tell you about cancer.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 December 2022
Next review: 01 December 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

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