Lung Biopsy

What is a Lung Biopsy?

A lung biopsy is usually performed when a physician notices clinical symptoms or findings on a chest x-ray that are suspicious for lung cancer.  A "biopsy" refers to sampling of lung tissue to determine if there is cancer present. This is generally done by taking a small sample of tissue and sending it to a pathologist to look at under a microscope.  A pathologist is a physician who specializes in examining tissue samples under a microscope, and will note if there is any evidence of cancer. 

lung cancer biopsy

If a biopsy is positive for cancer, "staging" is necessary to determine how far the cancer has spread.  This information is then used to guide treatment for the cancer and determine the patient's prognosis.  If there is cancer present in one area area (localized) and has not spread, it may be possible to perform a lung resection operation to remove the cancer.  Lung cancer surgery may be performed through an open incision, and minimally invasive surgery may be possible for some patients. 


Bronchoscopy is often used to perform a lung biopsy, where a flexible camera is placed through the mouth and down the airway into the lungs. This procedure is usually done under anesthesia, where the patient is put to sleep. The physician can sample the lung tissue around the airway with a small tool at the end of the bronchoscope.  This tissue can then be sent to a pathologist, who will look at the tissue under a microscope to see if it has characteristics of cancer.  Bronchoscopy is a procedure that may be performed by pulmonoligists (specialists in lung disease) or a lung surgeon.


In mediastinoscopy, a small incision is made in the patients' chest to provide access to the mediastinum (the area around the heart, which is separate from the lung cavity).  The surgeon will place an endoscope (instrument with a camera at the end) through the incision.  The endoscope allows the surgeon to visualize the lungs and lymph nodes.  The surgeon can then take biopsies of the tissues and stage the spread of lung cancer.

Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery

Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) is a term used to describe surgery performed through small incisions.  During VATS, the surgeon uses small holes in the patients' chest wall as a point of entry into the lung cavity.  The surgeon will then pass a small camera (endoscope) through one of the holes to view the lungs.  Instruments are then passed through other small incisions and into the lung cavity to perform a specific procedure. The main advantage of VATS is that the procedure is less invasive than traditional surgery, where the chest has to be opened through a long incision in order to gain access to a diseased part of the lung.  VATS leads to a decreased duration of hospital stay and decreased level of pain when compared to traditional surgical techniques.

If you have any questions regarding a lung biopsy, please contact us to set up a consultation with one of our lung surgeons.

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