Diseases & Conditions

Adrenal Gland Biopsy - Adrenal Biopsy

Overview & Description

There are two adrenal glands in the body, one on top of each kidney. These glands produce a variety of hormones that affect almost all of the body's functions. An adrenal biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue, usually from only one adrenal gland.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

An adrenal biopsy may be done when an abnormal growth or mass is seen in one, or rarely both, of the adrenal glands. This growth or mass may be a tumor or just an infection. The adrenal glands can usually be seen only during special X-ray tests, such as an abdominal CT scan.

How is the procedure performed?

There are two ways to do an adrenal biopsy. With the first method, a doctor inserts a needle through the skin of the back into the adrenal gland, while he or she looks at live images from a CT scan or other X-ray. Local anesthesia is used to prevent the person from feeling pain. A medicine to relax the person may also be given if needed. Once a tissue sample has been obtained, the needle is removed, and a bandage is placed over the puncture site.

An adrenal biopsy may also be done using surgery, under general anesthesia. A cut is made into the back or abdomen, and the surgeon looks at the gland directly. A piece of the gland can then be removed and sent to the lab. The lab often analyzes the piece of tissue while the person is still asleep. If the tissue turns out to be cancer, surgery can then be done right away to avoid a second operation in the future.

Preparation & Expectations

What is involved in preparation for the test?

Because preparation for this procedure can vary, a person should ask his or her doctor for instructions.

What happens right after the procedure?

After a biopsy guided with X-rays, a person usually requires little, if any, time to recover. If a relaxing medicine was given, the person often must be monitored for an hour or two until it has started to wear off. The person may then be able to go home if there is no other reason to stay in the hospital. If the person was given medicine, someone else should usually drive him or her home. This is because the medicines used to relax people often impair the ability to drive.

After the surgical approach to adrenal biopsy, a person often needs to stay in the hospital for a day or more to recover. He or she is first taken to a surgery recovery room for a few hours, then to the hospital room. In some cases, a person may be able to go home the same day if someone else drives him or her home.

Home Care and Complications

What happens later at home?

People are usually free to return to their usual activities the day after an X-ray-guided biopsy. The bandage can usually be left on until it falls off, usually a day or two later. Specific instructions are provided by the staff.

If the sample was obtained during surgery, recovery usually takes slightly longer. In this case, the surgeon gives specific home care instructions before a person leaves the hospital.

The results of the biopsy are usually available within a few days. The biopsy may reveal:

  • a benign, also known as noncancerous, tumor
  • cancer that started in the adrenal gland or spread from another part of the body
  • an infection
  • What are the potential complications after the procedure?

    An X-ray-guided biopsy may sometimes cause a small hole in the lungs that can lead to breathing problems. Either method can cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.


    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:09/30/02
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:09/05/01


    Tabers Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, F.A.Davis, 1993

    Illustrated Guide to Diagnostic Tests, Springhouse, 1998

    Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and laboratory Tests, Kathleen Pagana and Timothy Pagana, 1998