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Biopsy for a Brain Tumor

Your doctor may decide that you need to have a biopsy. The tumor sample taken during biopsy can show if the tumor is benign or malignant. This will help decide what treatment is needed. Sometimes a biopsy will not be needed based on various tumor characteristics. Read this sheet to learn more about the two types of biopsies available.

Man in hospital gown in wheelchair. Healthcare provider is showing him head frame on table.
A head frame helps your surgeon map the site of the tumor.

If a child needs a biopsy, describe what you think he or she will experience before and after surgery. Check with the preadmission department at your hospital for resources that might help.

Stereotactic biopsy

Stereotactic biopsy is often used if a tumor is in a part of the brain that is hard to reach or near a vital area. A special frame may be used to hold the head in place. The biopsy is guided by computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Before the procedure

Before the biopsy, the hair over the area where the biopsy will be taken may be trimmed or removed. You will have anesthesia to numb the part of your head where the surgeon will place the frame and take the biopsy. You may remain awake during the biopsy.

During the procedure

During a stereotactic biopsy, the surgeon will pass a hollow needle through the skull bone into the tumor. Cells taken from the tumor will then be sent to a lab to be examined.

Risks and complications of stereotactic biopsy include bleeding, seizures, and infection.  Sometimes, a stereotactic biopsy is done and an open craniotomy is needed later.

Open biopsy

An open biopsy is performed through a craniotomy, an opening in the skull. You will usually be asleep or sedated for this procedure. A craniotomy allows an open biopsy to be done and as much of the tumor as possible to be removed. During the procedure, the scalp is cut and a piece of skull bone is taken out. This provides access to the brain. In most cases, the bone is put back in place. Often a preliminary pathology diagnosis is made while you are still in the operating room, so the neurosurgeon has information on how extensive the surgery will be.

Before the procedure

A few days before the procedure you will have an exam, meet with your surgeon and sign consent forms. You will learn if you can take your usual medications before surgery and be told to avoid eating and drinking for at least 8 hours before surgery.

Planning the return home

As with any surgery, you may need some help when you return home. Plan ahead. Have people in mind to:

  • Drive you home from the hospital and to appointments

  • Keep track of doctors’ instructions

  • Cook and take care of your house

  • Help manage bills

Online Medical Reviewer: Germano, Isabelle M, MD, FACS
Online Medical Reviewer: Patil, Parag G, MD, PhD
Last Review Date: 12/8/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.