Biopsy for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer

A biopsy means removing a sample of tissue and looking at it under a microscope. This is the only certain way to tell whether a growth or an abnormal area is a cancer or not. There are different ways of taking a biopsy from the lining of the nose.

The type you have will depend on the position of the abnormal area.

Before the biopsy

You sign a consent form beforehand. This is a good time to make sure you ask your doctor any questions you have.

Take your usual medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise. If you take medicine to thin your blood, you might need to stop it before your biopsy. Your doctor will tell you when to stop it.

Biopsy of an abnormal area in the nostrils

If the abnormal area is close to the front of the nostrils you have the biopsy under a local anaesthetic. You may have the procedure in the outpatient clinic or as a day case under local or a short general anaesthetic (see below). 

You lie down and need to keep very still. Your doctor sprays or injects a local anaesthetic in the affected area to numb it. 

Your doctor uses a biopsy forceps to remove a very small area of the abnormal tissue. They send the tissue to the laboratory for examination under a microscope by a pathologist.

Biopsy of the back of the nose

An abnormal area in the back of the nose is harder to reach. You usually have this test under a general anaesthetic in hospital as a day case.

You can't eat or drink for a few hours before an anaesthetic. Contact the hospital in advance if this is a problem for you, for example if you have diabetes.

You meet the anaesthetist before your test. They look after you while you have the anaesthetic. Before the test a nurse gives you a gown to wear and you lie down on a trolley or a couch in the anaesthetic room.

The anaesthetist puts a small tube called a cannula into a vein in one of your arms. You then have the anaesthetic through the cannula into your vein and go into a deep sleep. When you wake up the procedure will be over and you will be in the recovery room or on a bed in the unit. A nurse will monitor you while you come round from the anaesthetic.

After the biopsy

You might have some bleeding from your nose for a while after the biopsy. Let your doctor or nurse know if the bleeding continues or gets heavy. 

You will also have some soreness or pain and will have painkillers to take for a few days. 

You can usually go home later that day or the next day.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

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

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

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