A biopsy of the eye

Your eye specialist (ophthalmologist) might take a sample (biopsy) of your eye. You have a sample of fluid or tissue removed from your eye and looked at under a microscope. 

A biopsy is not used that often for melanoma of the eye.  A specialist can usually use other tests (such as an examination or ultrasound) to help diagnose this type of eye cancer. If you do have a biopsy, you might have a fine needle aspirate or vitreous biopsy.

You are more likely to have a biopsy if your eye specialist thinks you have lymphoma.

Fine needle aspirate biopsy

A fine needle aspirate biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or fluid using a syringe and needle. You usually have this in the operating theatre. You do not need any special preparation before you arrive.

Before the biopsy

A fine needle aspirate biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or fluid using a syringe and needle. You usually have this in the operating theatre. You do not need any special preparation before you arrive.

What happens during the biopsy

You usually have this in the operating theatre. You lie on a couch with your head in a comfortable position. After you have the local or general anaesthetic, the specialist puts a thin needle attached to a syringe into your eye. They draw out some cells from the tumour. 

This usually takes a few minutes. If you have a local anaesthetic you may be aware of something going on, but you shouldn’t have discomfort or pain. Let your doctor know if you can feel anything or it is painful.

The biopsy goes to the laboratory where a specialist doctor looks at the cells closely. This can show whether there is a cancer or another type of eye condition. It can take some time to get the results. You will have an appointment to see your specialist to discuss the results with you. 

After the biopsy

You can go home soon after the biopsy. You can take paracetamol if your eye is sore. Your doctor or nurse will let you know how to look after your eye after the biopsy. Sometimes you may have eye drops to take for a few days after. Your nurse will show you how to do this.

Risks

A needle biopsy is a very safe procedure. But your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards. This is usually a number for the ophthalmology department or a ward. It is important to let them know if you notice any of the following around your eye:

  • redness
  • pain
  • swelling
  • bleeding

Looking after your eye at home

Your specialist or nurse will advise you how to look after and protect your eye at home, for example:

  • instructions for using your eye drops
  • try to avoid getting shampoo and soap into your eye
  • you should not go swimming for 6 weeks
  • avoid contact sports
  • avoid using eye makeup

You will have an appointment to return to the hospital for the results. At this time your eye specialist will also let you know when you can start using eye makeup and resume sports.

Getting your results

You will have to wait to get the results. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Waiting for results can make you anxious. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse. You can contact them for information if you need to.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses for support on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
29 Sep 2021
Next review due: 
29 Sep 2024
  • Uveal Melanoma Guidelines
    Melanoma Focus, January 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2018

  • Primary intraocular lymphoma

    M Sagoo and others

    Survey of Ophthalmology, 2014. Vol 59, Issue 5, Pages 503-16

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