CT Scan-Guided Lung Biopsy | American Lung Association

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CT Scan-Guided Lung Biopsy

What Is a CT Scan-Guided Lung Biopsy?

Lung nodules are abnormal areas of shadow on the lungs identified on a chest X-ray or CT scan. Doctors cannot always tell if the nodule is lung cancer based on these types of imaging alone. Depending on the size of the nodule and your risk factors, further analysis may be needed including a biopsy of the nodule. This allows the tissue within the nodule to be examined to determine if it contains cancer. One way to obtain this tissue is to have doctors who specialize in imaging (radiologists) use a CT scan to guide a needle through the chest wall and into the lung nodule.

What to Expect

On the day of the procedure, you will be asked not to eat or drink for at least six to eight hours prior. It is also important to let your doctor know if you are taking any medicines that make your blood thin. Before the procedure begins, you will change into a gown and lie on the CT scanner table, where you will be given medicine to help you relax. The radiologist will clean the area of skin the needle will go through, place a sterile drape around the area and numb the area. Using the CT scanner, a needle will be inserted through the skin and into the lung to the nodule and multiple samples will be taken. After the procedure, you will be observed by nurses for routine monitoring.

Understanding the Results

A doctor who specializes in looking at tissue under the microscope (pathologist) will examine the tissue during the time you are being observed. There are times when the pathologist is unable to get a diagnosis, which may require further procedures to obtain tissue, such as surgery or bronchoscopy. If it is cancer, you will likely be sent to a cancer specialist (oncologist) and/or a surgeon. If another cause of the nodule is found, such as infection or inflammation, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat the underlying cause.

What Are the Risks?

While a CT scan-guided lung biopsy is less invasive than other procedures used to obtain tissue from the lung nodule, it is not without some risk. Very few patients may experience an air leak due to the needle causing a hole in the lung. This usually heals on its own and will not require further procedures. But if the air leak is big enough, or you experience symptoms due to the air leak, a tube may need to be inserted through the skin and chest wall to drain the air from your chest cavity. And because the procedure involves a needle going through the skin, there is a chance that infection can be introduced to the body, which could require treatment with antibiotics. Like many invasive procedures, there is a small chance for bleeding to occur during the procedure, which may result in the need for blood transfusion.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed May 31, 2017.

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