Lung biopsy in the interventional radiology department

This information is about having a small procedure called a lung biopsy in the interventional radiology (IR) department.

A lung biopsy is a procedure, where we remove a small sample from your lung with a fine needle. We give you an injection of local anaesthetic. This means that the area is numb but you stay awake for the procedure. 

A specially trained doctor called an interventional radiologist (IR doctor) does the procedure. Imaging equipment, such as a CT scanner or ultrasound machine, helps the IR doctor to find the area accurately. We then send the sample to a laboratory, where it is examined in detail under a microscope.

The aim of the information is to help answer some of your questions about having a lung biopsy. It explains:

If you have any more questions or concerns about your procedure, please contact the interventional radiology (IR) department.

Benefits of the procedure

A biopsy can help your doctor to diagnose a lung condition and make sure that you get the right treatment.

Risks of the procedure

There might be bruising or a small amount of swelling around the area where we put in the needle (the biopsy site). This should not be painful and will heal.

Air might leak out of your lung (pneumothorax). If this happens, you might:

  • feel short of breath
  • cough
  • have chest pain

If you have an air leak from the lung, you might not need any treatment. Sometimes, we put a small drain (thin tube) into your chest to ease the pressure. This might mean that you need to stay in hospital overnight.

It is quite common to cough up some blood after the procedure. This might last for 4 to 6 hours. It is rarely more serious. Your doctor can give you more information about this.

In rare cases where the nodule (clump of cells or growth in the lung) is very small:

  • we might not be able to take enough material during the biopsy
  • the tissue sample may contain dead cells

This may mean that we cannot use the sample to make a diagnosis. In that case, we may need to repeat the lung biopsy or plan what happens next with you.

Radiation risks

During the procedure, you are exposed to X-rays. They are a type of radiation called ionising radiation. This may cause cancer many years or decades after you are exposed to it.

You might have some skin redness after the procedure that feels like sunburn. We do not expect this to be permanent. The redness might be harder to notice on brown and black skin. 

Interventional radiology (IR) is when we use medical imaging guidance to do minimally invasive procedures. The amount (dose) of radiation from these procedures is generally low. More complex procedures might involve a medium (moderate) dose of radiation.

The IR doctor and radiographer (health professional who specialises in medical imaging) make sure that:

  • your radiation dose is kept as low as possible
  • the benefits of having X-rays during your procedure are greater than the radiation risks

Radiation and pregnancy

Radiation can be harmful for an unborn baby. If you are or think that you might be pregnant, it is important to tell a member of your medical team before the procedure. We cannot do any procedure that involves radiation if you are pregnant.
If you can become pregnant from sex, you need to use protection (contraception) from the first day of your period until your appointment. This means that you will not be pregnant when you have the procedure.

If the first day of your period has already passed, please contact the interventional radiology (IR) department. We can then give you another appointment within the first 10 days of your period. 

We ask you to sign a pregnancy declaration form before the procedure.

Other treatment options

A lung biopsy is the only way for your doctor to:

  • get the information needed to make a correct diagnosis
  • treat your condition

Resource number: 0035/VER6
Last reviewed: April 2024
Next review due: April 2027

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Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about a lung biopsy, please contact the interventional radiology (IR) department.


We are open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

If you need urgent medical attention or are worried about anything outside of working hours, contact a GP, call 111 or go to A&E.

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