Biopsy and fine needle aspiration

You might have cells taken from the gallbladder, the liver, or enlarged lymph nodes. Taking a sample of cells and looking at it under a microscope can show whether a growth or abnormal area has a cancer or not.

Diagram showing the position of the gallbladder and bile ducts


To take a biopsy your doctor uses a specialised needle to take one or more samples of cells. They do this by putting a thin, flexible tube down your throat (an ERCP) or they might put a tube called a laparoscope through the skin of your tummy (a laparoscopy).

Fine needle aspiration (FNA)

For a fine needle aspiration your doctor uses a very thin needle to take some fluid and cells. They guide the needle using an ultrasound scan or CT scan.

Ways of taking a biopsy or fine needle aspiration (FNA)

There are several different ways your doctor can take a biopsy or FNA. The type your doctor uses will depend on the position of the abnormal area in the gallbladder, liver or lymph nodes.

Your doctor puts a long, flexible tube called an endoscope down your throat to take x-rays of the pancreas and gallbladder. This procedure is called an ERCP. The endoscope has a small camera and light at the end. Your doctor can take samples of any abnormal areas.

This test is called a laparoscopy. Your doctor uses a thin tube called a laparoscope to look inside the tummy (abdomen). The tube has a light and camera attached. You have this test to look for areas of cancer spread (metastases).

You are most likely to have this done under a general anaesthetic. Once you are asleep, your doctor makes several small cuts (incisions) in the skin of your abdomen. They pump gas into the abdomen so they can see the organs more clearly. This gas won't do any harm and gradually disappears after the test.

Your doctor might use an ultrasound through the laparoscope. This helps to show exactly where any abnormal areas are. Your doctor can then take biopsies.

After this test is over, you have stitches or Steri-strips holding the wounds closed. The cuts heal within a week or so.

Ultrasound or CT guided fine needle aspiration

Your doctor uses an ultrasound or CT scan to see exactly where the tumour is in the gallbladder or lymph nodes.

You have a local anaesthetic injection in the skin over the area so that it goes numb. Your doctor then puts a fine needle through the skin and into the tumour. They take out a small piece of tissue. This shouldn't be painful because of the local anaesthetic. But you feel pressure when the needle goes in.

After your test

Following a gallbladder biopsy or fine needle aspiration, you have to stay in hospital for a few hours or overnight. This is because there is a risk of bleeding afterwards.

These are safe procedures but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards.

Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having the test outweigh any possible risks.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. 

Waiting for results can make you anxious. 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.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

You might have other tests to diagnose gallbladder cancer.

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