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Bone Biopsy

Definition, Purpose, Precautions, Description, Preparation, Aftercare, Risks, Normal results, Abnormal results

Bone biopsy is the removal of a piece of bone for laboratory examination and analysis.


Bone biopsy is used to distinguish between malignant tumors and benign bone disease such as osteoporosis and osteomyelitis. This test may be ordered to determine why a patient's bones ache or feel sore, or when a mass or deformity is found on an x ray, CT scan, bone scan, or other diagnostic imaging procedure.


The patient's doctor and the surgeon who performs the bone biopsy must be told about any prescription and over-the-counter medications the patient is taking, and about allergies or reactions the patient has had to anesthetics or pain relievers. Special care must be taken with patients who have experienced bleeding problems.


A bone biopsy involves using a special drill or other surgical instruments to remove bone from the patient's body. The procedure usually lasts about 30 minutes and may be performed in the hospital, a doctor's office, or a surgical center.

A drill biopsy is generally used to obtain a small specimen. After the skin covering the bone has been cleansed with an antiseptic and shaved, the patient is given a local anesthetic. The doctor will not begin the procedure until the anesthetic has numbed the area from which the bone is to be removed, but the patient may feel pressure or mild pain when the needle pierces the bone. The surgeon turns the needle in a half-circle to extract a sample from the core, or innermost part, of the bone. The sample is drawn into the hollow stem of the biopsy needle. The sample is then sent to a laboratory, where it is examined under a microscope.

An open biopsy is used when a larger specimen is needed. After the area covering the bone has been cleansed with an antiseptic and shaved, the patient is given a general anesthetic. After the anesthetic takes effect and the patient is unconscious, the surgeon makes an incision and removes a bone specimen. The specimen is sent to the laboratory for immediate analysis. Results of that analysis may indicate that additional surgery should be performed right away.


No special preparation is needed for a drill biopsy, but a patient must fast for at least 12 hours before an open biopsy.


Pain medication will be prescribed after a biopsy, and vital signs will be monitored until they return to normal. Most patients can go home in about an hour. If bone was removed from the spine, the patient may stay in the hospital overnight. The surgical site must be kept clean and dry for 48 hours, and the patient's doctor should be notified if any of these symptoms appear:

  • fever
  • headache
  • pain on movement
  • inflammation or pus near the biopsy site
  • bleeding through the bandage at the biopsy site


Risks include bone fracture, injury to nearby tissue, and infection. Bleeding is a rare complication. Factors that increase risk include:

  • stress
  • obesity
  • poor nutrition
  • chronic illness
  • some medications
  • mind-altering drugs

Normal results

Normal bone is made up of collagen fibers and bone tissue.

Abnormal results

Bone biopsy can reveal the presence of benign disease, infection, or malignant tumors that have spread to the bone from other parts of the body.

Results of this test are considered reliable, but may be affected by:

  • failure to fast before open biopsy
  • failure to obtain an adequate specimen
  • delayed microscopic examination or laboratory analysis



Everything You Need to Know About Medical Tests. Ed. Michael Shaw, et al. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation, 1996.

The Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. Ed. Barry L. Zaret, et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.


Cancer Group Institute. 1814 N.E. Miami Gardens Drive, North Miami Beach, FL 33179. (305) 651-5070. <http://www.cancergroup.com/em19.html>.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse. National Institutes of Health. 1 AMS Circle, Bethesda, MD 20892-3695.(301) 495-3675.


ThriveOnline. 17 Feb. 1998 <http://thriveonline.oxygen.com>.

Maureen Haggerty


Biopsy—Removal and examination of tissue to determine if cancer is present.

Osteomyelitis—An infection of the bone that is usually treated with antibiotics but sometimes requires surgery.

Osteoporosis—Thinning and loss of bone tissue.

Additional topics

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