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Tongue biopsy

Biopsy - tongue


A tongue biopsy is a minor surgery that is done to remove a small piece of the tongue. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.

How the Test is Performed


A tongue biopsy can be done using a needle.

  • You will get numbing medicine at the place where the biopsy is to be done.
  • The health care provider will gently stick the needle into the tongue and remove a tiny piece of tissue.

Some types of tongue biopsies remove a thin slice of tissue. Medicine to numb the area (local anesthetic) will be used. Others are done under general anesthesia, (allowing you to be asleep and pain-free) so that a larger area may be removed and examined.


How to Prepare for the Test


You may be told not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the test.


How the Test will Feel


Your tongue is very sensitive so a needle biopsy may be uncomfortable even when numbing medicine is used.

Your tongue can be tender or sore, and it may feel slightly swollen after the biopsy. You may have stitches or an open sore where the biopsy was done.


Why the Test is Performed


The test is done to find the cause of abnormal growths or suspicious-looking areas of the tongue.


Normal Results


The tongue tissue is normal when examined.


What Abnormal Results Mean


Abnormal results may mean:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Tongue (oral) cancer
  • Viral ulcer
  • Benign tumors




Risks for this procedure include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Swelling of the tongue (can obstruct the airway and cause breathing difficulty)

Complications from this procedure are rare.




Eusterman VD. History and Physical Examination, Screening and Diagnostic Testing. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. Feb 2011;44(1):1-29. PMID: 21093621

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        Review Date: 2/9/2015

        Reviewed By: Alan Lipkin, MD, Otolaryngologist, private practice, Denver, CO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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