What is a brain biopsy?
A brain biopsy is used to diagnose illness. In the procedure, a tumor or a
piece of tissue is removed from the brain for examination under a microscope. Types
of brain biopsies include:
- needle biopsy
- stereotactic biopsy
- open biopsy
In a needle biopsy, a small hole is drilled into the skull and a narrow,
hollow needle is placed into the incision to extract a tiny portion of the
tumor or tissue.
A stereotactic biopsy uses 3-D imaging technology, as well as data from CT
and MRI scans, to examine a tumor or a piece of the brain. Stereotactic biopsy
is a minimally invasive procedure.
Open biopsies are the most common form of brain biopsy and the most invasive.
During the procedure, your surgeon will remove a piece of bone from your skull
while you’re under general anesthesia. This allows the tumor to be exposed and
removed. This is riskier than other brain biopsy methods and the recovery time
does a brain biopsy do?
A brain biopsy can help doctors diagnose brain illnesses, allowing them to
devise treatment plans. Doctors usually order brain biopsies to determine
whether a tumor is cancerous or benign. It can also be ordered to confirm the
diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a dementia-related disease. Inflammatory
disorders and infections can also be identified through brain biopsy.
A brain biopsy is seen as a last resort for
diagnosing an illness and is performed after imaging techniques prove
inconclusive. In the case of dementia, the role of brain biopsy is sometime
used for diagnosis, but the practice still remains uncertain. Research
shows that the procedure may become more worthwhile for diagnosing dementia as
new therapies are discovered. But for now, diseases such as Alzheimer’s are
usually diagnosed clinically and through imaging tests.
What are the risks of a brain biopsy?
Brain surgery is always risky, but needle and stereotactic biopsies are less
invasive than open biopsies. They also have fewer complications.
Going under anesthesia always poses risks for older adults and people with
dementia. All types of brain biopsies can result in swelling or bleeding in the
brain. They can also lead to:
Sometimes, tests on the sampled tissue are inconclusive and the procedure
must be repeated. Risks have been reduced with modern technology such as
How do you prepare for a brain biopsy?
Lab work and a CT scan or an MRI may be ordered, before your surgery. Your
doctor may ask you to discontinue using blood thinners and aspirin. You may need
to wash your hair with a special shampoo the night before surgery.
How is a brain biopsy administered?
Brain biopsies are performed in hospital operating rooms. Your surgeon may
place a head ring on you, which is held in place with pins. In some cases, a CT
scan or an MRI is taken in conjunction with the biopsy, often with the head
ring in place. In other cases, the CT scan or MRI is taken before the biopsy
and the results are uploaded into surgical equipment. This eliminates the need
for a head ring.
In needle or stereotactic biopsies, a small incision, a few millimeters long,
is made. After a tiny hole is drilled into the skull, a small needle is placed
into the brain and the biopsy is obtained. If the biopsy is remotely
controlled, your doctor can navigate the needle during surgery by watching a
After surgery, the incision is stapled or sutured. In the case of open
biopsies, the bone flap is replaced with plates or wires. If there is swelling
or infection, the flap won’t be replaced. This is called a craniectomy.
is the outlook after a brain biopsy?
Your doctor will go over the results of the biopsy with you and come up with
a treatment plan if needed. In some cases, particularly with stereotactic and
needle biopsies, you may go home on the same day. Although a one-day hospital
stay is usually required. The hospital stay may be longer depending on your
health and whether any complications arise during surgery.