Fine needle aspiration is a type of biopsy procedure. In fine needle aspiration, a thin needle is inserted into an area of abnormal-appearing tissue or body fluid.
As with other types of biopsies, the sample collected during fine needle aspiration can help make a diagnosis or rule out conditions such as cancer.
Fine needle aspiration is generally considered a safe procedure. Complications are infrequent.
Why it’s done
A fine needle aspiration is most often done on swellings or lumps located just under the skin.
A lump may be felt during a doctor’s examination. Or it may be discovered on an imaging test such as:
- CT scan
Imaging tests may also discover abnormal spots deeper inside the body.
Doctors may recommend fine needle aspiration for areas such as:
- cysts (fluid-filled lumps)
- nodules or masses (solid lumps)
- enlarged lymph nodes
The most common reason to get a fine needle aspiration is to test for cancer.
Most fine needle aspirations are done on these areas:
- thyroid gland
- lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpit
Those types of fine needle aspirations are performed through the skin.
How you prepare
Most needle biopsy procedures don’t require any preparation on your part.
However, you may be asked to stop taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin, in the days before your biopsy. Depending on what part of your body will be biopsied, your doctor may ask you not to eat or drink before the procedure.
What you can expect
During the needle biopsy
During the needle biopsy, the doctor guides a needle through your skin and into the area of interest. A sample of cells is collected and the needle is withdrawn. This process may be repeated several times until enough cells are collected.
You may experience mild discomfort during your needle biopsy, such as a sensation of pressure in the area. Tell your health care team if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
After the needle biopsy
Once your doctor has collected enough cells or tissue for analysis, your needle biopsy procedure is complete. Your biopsy sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results may be available in a few days, though more technical tests may require more time. Ask your doctor how long you can expect to wait.
Your health care team may apply a bandage over the area where the needle was inserted. You may be asked to apply pressure to the bandage for several minutes to ensure there is minimal bleeding.
In most cases, you can leave when your needle biopsy procedure is completed.
If you will be getting sedating medication, be sure to bring someone with you to drive you home.