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CT-guided needle lung biopsy

What is a CT-guided needle lung biopsy?

This is a test where a tiny sample of tissue (biopsy) is taken from lungs for analysis. This helps doctors to find out more about the health of your lungs. 

A radiologist uses the X-ray images from a computed tomography (CT) scan to guide the needle to the area where the biopsy is taken.

Why do I need this test?

Your consultant has suggested that you have this test after discussing your case with a radiologist. Your previous CT scan and tests may have shown something that your consultant would like to check further. 


Your consultant will explain why he or she thinks you need this test and how it will benefit you. You can then decide if you want to go ahead with the procedure or not.

What happens if I don’t have the test?

It may affect your treatment as your consultant may not have all the information needed for a diagnosis. 

How do I prepare for the test?

On the day of the test, please eat a light breakfast and continue taking any prescribed medication as normal. You will need to stay in hospital after the biopsy for about four hours. 

Please bring an overnight bag with you to hospital as you may need to stay overnight. We will discuss this with you when your appointment is made.

What happens during the procedure?

We will ask you to lie on the CT scanner bed and explain the best position for taking the biopsy. A scan will be taken using a small metallic marker, such as a paper clip, which is placed on the outside of your skin. This marker shows up in the scan images so we can decide the best place to take the biopsy. 

The skin is then cleaned with antiseptic solution and numbed with a local anaesthetic. A biopsy needle is carefully inserted into the lung to take the biopsy.  

In order to take a good sample, this part of the test may be repeated two to three times.

How long does the procedure take?

The procedure will take 30 to 45 minutes. This includes the set-up time and the time to take the biopsy.

Will it hurt?

The local anaesthetic used to numb the area may sting for a few seconds. You may also be aware of pressure from the biopsy needle as it takes the sample.

What happens afterwards?

We will take you back to the ward so you can rest and where you can eat and drink as usual. 

You will have a chest x-ray three to four hours after the biopsy. If this is normal you can go home. If there are any complications, we may ask you to stay in hospital overnight.


The results of the biopsy will not be available immediately and will be sent to the consultant in charge of your care. Your consultant will discuss the results with you at your next clinic appointment or by telephone if necessary.

What are the risks of the procedure?

All medical procedures carry some risk and the possibility that complications may arise. This procedure is considered low risk.


Sometimes a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) can occur. This happens when air leaks from the lung and becomes trapped between the lung and the chest wall. If the air leak is large, a small tube (called a chest drain) may be inserted into the chest wall to suck out the trapped air.


A small air leak will normally heal in a few days and does not need to be drained.


Some patients may cough up a small amount of blood after the procedure. This is not a reason to get worried. 


The amount of radiation used is kept to a minimum. We strongly believe that the benefits of the procedure far outweigh any risks to your health.


It is possible that the results will not give your consultant enough information to make a diagnosis. If this happens we may need to repeat the CT guided needle lung biopsy or recommend an alternative procedure called a bronchoscopy.

Female patients

If you are pregnant, or think you may be pregnant, please tell us before the procedure. 


We aim to make sure that every patient is fully informed about the risks and benefits of a procedure or treatment. Before you have the biopsy the radiologist will ask for your consent (permission) for the procedure. 

Please make sure that you understand the risks and benefits of the procedure and that it has been explained to you before you give your consent. Please ask is you have any questions.

Are there any alternatives?

Some patients are suitable for a bronchoscopy (a long narrow flexible tube is passed through the nose or mouth to reach the lungs) or a surgical procedure to reach the lung tissue. 

Please ask your consultant if you would like to know more about the alternatives.

Where is the CT scanner?

Harefield Hospital

The CT scanner is in the X-ray department.


Tel: 01895 828 609


Royal Brompton Hospital

There are two CT scanners at the hospital

  1. basement of Fulham Wing /South Block(please report to X-ray reception, ground floor, Fulham Wing). 
  2. x-ray department, level 3, Sydney Wing (please report to X-ray reception on level 3, Sydney Wing). 


Tel: 020 7351 8220


Please check your appointment letter carefully. If you are unsure where to go, please phone us on 020 7351 8220 or ask at reception.


Please contact us if you have any questions about the procedure or your appointment.


Royal Brompton Hospital: 020 7351 8220

Harefield Hospital: 01895 828 609

Royal Brompton

Sydney Street,
London SW3 6NP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7352 8121