Main content

    Health Information

    Prostate Biopsy

    Prostate Biopsy

    Test Overview

    A prostate gland biopsy is a test to remove small samples of prostate tissue to be examined under a microscope.

    For a prostate biopsy, a thin needle is inserted through the rectum (transrectal biopsy), through the urethra , or through the area between the anus and scrotum ( perineum ). A transrectal biopsy is the most common method used. The tissue samples taken during the biopsy are examined for cancer cells.

    A biopsy may be done when a blood test shows a high level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) or after a digital rectal examination finds an abnormal prostate or a lump.

    Why It Is Done

    A prostate biopsy is done to determine:

    • If a lump found in the prostate gland is cancer.
    • The cause of a high level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.

    How To Prepare

    Tell your doctor if you:

    • Have had any bleeding problems.
    • Are allergic to latex or any medicines, including anesthetics.
    • Take any medicines regularly. Be sure your doctor knows the names and doses of all your medicines.
    • Are taking any blood-thinning medicines, such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, enoxaparin (Lovenox), aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) .

    You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

    Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the biopsy, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of the biopsy, fill out the medical test information form (What is a PDF document?) .

    If a prostate biopsy is done under local anesthesia through the area between the anus and scrotum (perineum), no other special preparation is needed.

    If the biopsy is done through the rectum, you may need to have an enema before the biopsy.

    If the biopsy is done under general anesthesia , your doctor will tell you how soon before surgery to stop eating and drinking. Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking, or your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of the surgery, please do so using only a sip of water.

    During preparation for the biopsy, an intravenous line (IV) is inserted in your arm, and a sedative medicine is given about an hour before the biopsy.

    How It Is Done

    This biopsy is done by a doctor who specializes in men's genital and urinary problems ( urologist ) in the doctor's office, a day surgery clinic, or a hospital operating room.

    Before your prostate biopsy, you may be given antibiotics to prevent infection. You may be asked to take off all of your clothes and put on a hospital gown.

    Transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) is commonly used to guide the placement of the needle during a prostate biopsy.

    Through the rectum (transrectal biopsy)

    Several positions are possible for this method. You may be asked to kneel, lie on your side, or lie on your back with your feet resting in stirrups. Your doctor may inject a local anesthetic around the prostate gland before the biopsy is taken.

    Transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) is generally used to guide the needle to the correct biopsy location. A prostate biopsy is usually done with a spring-loaded needle. The needle quickly enters the prostate gland and removes a tissue sample. Between 6 and 12 samples are taken from different areas of the prostate.

    The biopsy can also be done with a needle guide attached to your doctor's finger. He or she inserts the finger into the rectum. Then the needle is slid along the guide, through the wall of the rectum, and into the prostate gland. The needle is turned to collect a tissue sample and then pulled out.

    A transrectal biopsy takes about 30 minutes.

    Through the urethra (transurethral biopsy)

    For this method, you will lie on your back with your feet resting in stirrups. General, spinal, or local anesthesia may be used.

    A lighted scope ( cystoscope ) is inserted into your urethra. It allows your doctor to look directly at the prostate gland. A cutting loop is passed through the cystoscope to remove small pieces of prostate tissue.

    A transurethral biopsy usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

    Through the perineum (transperineal biopsy)

    Transperineal biopsy is not done as commonly as transrectal or transurethral biopsy. You will lie on an examining table either on your side or on your back with your knees bent. General or local anesthesia may be used.

    Your skin at the biopsy site is cleaned with an antiseptic solution, and the area around it is covered with sterile cloth. Your doctor will wear sterile gloves. It is very important that you do not touch this sterile area.

    Transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) is generally used to guide the needle to the correct biopsy location.

    A small cut (incision) is made in your perineum. Your doctor inserts a finger into the rectum to hold the prostate gland and then inserts the needle through the incision and into the prostate gland. To collect a sample of tissue, the needle is gently turned and then pulled out. Biopsy samples may be taken from several areas of the prostate. Pressure is applied to stop the bleeding, and a small bandage is placed over the cut. The biopsy usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

    How It Feels

    You may feel a slight sting when you receive an injection of medicine to numb your skin. You may feel a dull pressure as the biopsy needle is inserted. For a transrectal biopsy, you may feel pressure in the rectum while the ultrasound probe or guiding finger is in place. You also may feel a brief, sharp pain as the biopsy needle is inserted into the prostate gland. Usually several biopsy samples are collected.

    Following the biopsy, you will be asked to avoid strenuous activities for about 4 hours. You may have mild pain in the pelvic area and blood in your urine for up to 5 days. Also, you may have some discoloration of your semen for up to 1 month after the biopsy. If you had a transrectal biopsy, you may experience a small amount of bleeding from your rectum for 2 to 3 days after the biopsy.

    If you have a transurethral biopsy, you may have a urinary catheter in place for a few hours after the biopsy. You also may need to take an antibiotic medicine for several days after the biopsy.

    If you have a general anesthetic, you will be in a recovery room for a few hours after the biopsy. You will need someone to drive you home when you are released. When you get home, your muscles may ache and you may feel tired for the rest of the day.

    Risks

    A prostate biopsy has a slight risk of causing problems such as:

    • Infection. This is more common in men who have undiagnosed prostatitis . Usually, taking antibiotic medicine before the biopsy prevents an infection from developing.
    • Bleeding into the urethra or bladder . This can cause a blood blister (hematoma), an inability to urinate, or a need to urinate often.
    • Bleeding from the rectum. If you have a transrectal biopsy, you may experience a small amount of bleeding from your rectum for 2 to 3 days after the biopsy.
    • An allergic reaction to the anesthetic medicines used during the biopsy.

    After the biopsy

    Call your doctor immediately if you:

    • Have heavy bleeding or bleeding continues longer than 2 to 3 days.
    • Have increased pain.
    • Have a fever.
    • Are unable to urinate within 8 hours or have blood in the urine for longer than 2 to 3 days.

    Results

    A prostate gland biopsy is a test to remove small samples of prostate tissue to be examined under a microscope. Results are usually available within 10 days.

    Prostate biopsy
    Normal:

    The prostate gland tissue samples appear normal under the microscope, with no signs of infection or cancer .

    Abnormal:

    Cancer cells or signs of infection are found.

    Signs of an abnormal noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland ( benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH ), tuberculosis , lymphoma , or rectal or bladder cancer are present.

    If cancer cells are present, a grade ( Gleason score ) will be given, which your doctor will discuss with you. The Gleason score is considered a tool for predicting how aggressive the cancer is.

    What Affects the Test

    Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

    • The biopsy may not contain enough tissue to make a diagnosis.
    • A chance that a cancer may be missed since the biopsy takes a small amount of tissue.

    What To Think About

    References

    Other Works Consulted

    • Loeb S, Carter HB (2012). Early detection, diagnosis, and staging of prostate cancer. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 10th ed., vol. 3, pp. 2763-2770. Philadelphia: Saunders.
    • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
    • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
    • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
    • Zelefsky MJ, et al. (2011). Cancer of the prostate. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 9th ed., pp. 1220-1271. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

    Credits

    By Healthwise Staff
    E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
    Christopher G. Wood, MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
    Last Revised December 28, 2012

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

    © 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.