Bone biopsy

A bone biopsy is used to help diagnose primary bone cancer. It is also sometimes used to help diagnose secondary bone cancer.

What is a bone biopsy?

A bone biopsy means the doctor takes a sample of cells from an area of bone to be checked under the microscope.

This test is used to help diagnose a cancer that starts in the bone (primary bone cancer). It is also sometimes used to diagnose cancer that has spread to the bones from another part of the body (secondary bone cancer). It is usually done at a specialist bone cancer centre.

If the cells are cancer, your doctors may do further tests on the sample to find out the type of bone cancer.

A bone biopsy is different to a bone marrow biopsy. We have separate information about having a bone marrow test.

Having a needle biopsy for bone cancer

The surgeon uses a small needle to take a small sample of the tumour. They will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area. You will usually be awake during a needle biopsy. But the doctor may give you a sedative so that you feel relaxed and sleepy. Sometimes the biopsy is done under a general anaesthetic, so you are asleep during the test.

Your surgeon may use a scan, such as a CT, ultrasound or x-ray during the biopsy. This helps guide them to the right place.

Having an open or surgical biopsy

This type of biopsy is not often used, because the needle biopsy is much quicker and easier. In an open biopsy, the surgeon removes a small piece of bone during a small operation. This is done under a general anaesthetic. You may need this if:

  • you cannot have a needle biopsy
  • the surgeon needs a slightly bigger piece of bone for diagnosis
  • you had a needle biopsy that did not give a clear result.