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An image of a needle used in a needle biopsy of the lung

My Needle Biopsy Experience

To be honest, I was somewhat confused about what a needle biopsy entailed. When I was diagnosed about three and a half years ago, I had biopsies done of my hip and a lymph node, both of which were much more easily accessible than the tumor in my lung. But the term "needle biopsy" was floated a number of times as a future possibility. It was not until I signed up for a clinical trial that one was actually put on my schedule.

Types of lung biopsies

There are several forms of lung biopsies performed for various reasons. An open biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves making a chest incision and removing tissue under general anesthesia. A bronchoscopy is performed by feeding a flexible tube through the mouth or nose and into the lungs. Then either a needle or forceps is used to collect tissue through the tube. Typically, patients are given local anesthesia and a special drug that causes selective amnesia of the actual event. The needle biopsy, by comparison, seems less invasive.

What is a needle biopsy?

Guided by a CT scanner to ensure that no arteries are in the way, a needle biopsy is conducted much as the name implies: a needle is inserted directly into the lung. The CT scanner is used to line up the location of the tumor and the outer skin is marked. A local anesthetic such as lidocaine is used to numb the skin and the muscle tissue around the area of insertion. This may require several small injections prior to the biopsy. Then the needle is inserted directly into the lung where the tumor is located.

In my case, the tumor was located close to the front of my lung, so the needle was guided between my ribs and I was able to watch. This involved leaving what appeared to be a long tube extending from my chest while another device was inserted for collection. Several samples were taken through the very narrow needle before it was removed. After the samples were completed, the needle was quickly and easily removed.

Possible complications

I was required to remain on my back, relaxed on my gurney, and was wheeled back to a hospital room for observation. While the needle biopsy is a very common and fairly straightforward procedure, there are common complications that might arise.

Among these is a pneumothorax, or collapsed lung caused by an air pocket in the chest cavity outside of the lung. If everything goes according to plan and no complications develop, the patient is generally able to go home within a few hours and return to more or less normal activity. While the discomfort may take a few days to wear off, over-the-counter pain medication is most likely enough.

Air escaping my lung

Over the next couple of hours, I had several X-rays taken of my chest cavity. Unfortunately, between the first and second X-ray, I also had a rough bout of coughing which resulted in a small amount of air escaping my lung and forming a pocket in the chest cavity outside the incision point. When it failed to go away on its own after a few hours, it was determined that I needed to have a vent inserted -- another relatively painless experience which I will detail in my next article.

Read more about Jeffrey's biopsy and pneumothorax experience.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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