Is Throat Biopsy Painful?

A throat biopsy is performed to diagnose certain throat problems.
A throat biopsy is performed to diagnose certain throat problems.

Your surgeon decides to perform a throat biopsy to evaluate the throat (larynx) and identify abnormal areas or masses. A biopsy is the process of extraction of a small cell sample to examine under the microscope. It helps the surgeon to determine the presence or extent of a disease.

There are two methods to collect the cells from the abnormal areas in the throat:

  • Incisional biopsy: A small piece of tissue is collected from an abnormal-looking area. This procedure is usually performed in the operation room (OR) under general anesthesia due to the risk of bleeding and aspiration.
  • Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC): A thin needle attached to a syringe is used to aspirate (extract) cells from a tumor or lump and sent for testing. This procedure is less invasive, but it is also less sensitive to diagnose cancers.

As the biopsy is performed under anesthesia or sedation, there is minimal pain and discomfort during the procedure. Patients experience throat pain, soreness, hoarseness of voice, or pain while swallowing after the anesthesia wears off. This pain usually resolves in a week. Painkillers are prescribed to manage pain after the procedure.

Fine needle aspiration is done in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia. There is usually no pain during FNAC, but the patients may have discomfort and feeling of pressure when the sample is being aspirated.

How do you know you have a problem in the throat?

The following signs and symptoms indicate a problem in the throat, requiring medical attention:

How is throat biopsy performed?

The procedure is performed by an otorhinolaryngologist [ENT (ear, nose, and throat) surgeon]. The doctor inserts a thin, flexible fiber-optic endoscope (laryngoscope/nasopharyngoscope) into the nostril and down the throat. The scope has a camera and is connected to a light source. The camera is connected to a monitor to view the magnified video and images captured by the camera. The videos can be recorded for future reference. The surgeon inserts surgical instruments alongside the scope to take a biopsy of the abnormal tissue. Some scopes are also equipped with suctions and forceps (grasping instruments) that can be used to clear the nose, sinus, or throat, remove any foreign body, and perform a biopsy.


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What are the risks of throat biopsy?

It is a relatively short, minimally invasive, and routinely performed procedure. The risk of complications is extremely low. The possible complications include lacerations, bleeding, vomiting, and respiratory collapse. These complications are usually rare and easily avoided if the procedure is performed by an experienced doctor and if the patient is cooperative.

The procedure must be performed with caution in patients with bleeding disorders and cardiovascular diseases, as well as who are taking anticoagulants or who have sexually transmitted diseases, such as hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus. Hence, you need to share your complete medical history with the doctor.

Cancer Research UK. Biopsy for Mouth Cancer.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology. Neck Mass Biopsy: What Should the Adult Patient Expect?