Fine Needle Aspiration

Your doctor has requested a Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) biopsy to be performed by a pathologist at Wellington SCL. Here is some background on what is involved in the test.

What is an FNA biopsy?

A pathologist passes a fine (thin) needle through the skin to get cells from a lump in the body. In many cases this is an alternative to cutting out the lump. 

The pathologist performing the test then examines the cells under a microscope.

Why do I need an FNA?

Your doctor feels that a cytological (cellular) examination will help to understand the nature of your lump, and whether anything further needs to be done.

Often this test shows a lump is harmless and can be left alone. 

Other lumps are best removed. The FNA results may help surgeons plan the surgery better if they know exactly what is wrong.

How is an FNA performed?

  • An FNA involves a consultation with a specialist pathologist. 
  • After asking some questions and examining the lump, the pathologist cleans the skin with alcohol. 
  • The pathologist then inserts a very fine needle through the skin into the lump and moves it about to obtain a sample of cells.
  • Generally, two or three needle ‘sticks’ are necessary to obtain enough material.  On completion, pressure is applied for several minutes to minimise any bruising.  You are able to resume normal activities after the procedure.
  • Most patients compare the sensation to a blood test.  It is not usually necessary to use anaesthetic.

Will there be any complications?

Significant problems are rare.  There may be some minor bruising, swelling and tenderness for a few days. 

Occasionally a tingling is noted during the aspiration.  This may mean a small nerve has been touched. 

Rarely, patients having FNAs around the chest area notice shortness of breath or chest pain after aspiration. This may be due to air entering the chest (pneumothorax).  If you think this may have happened, please contact the pathologist or your own doctor. 

FNA can usually be carried out on patients taking aspirin or blood thinners. Please let the pathologist know if you are on these medicines.

Are the results reliable?

The results of Fine Needle Aspiration are highly reliable but depend on a good sampling. 

Some lumps do not shed many cells.  Sometimes the lump is difficult to find and sample with the needle. 

If a good sample is not obtained, further investigation may be needed some time after an FNA.

False negative results can occur, if at any time after an FNA examination you notice any change in a lump, or you are still concerned, you should see your doctor again.

May I have a support person?

You may have another person of your choice with you during the interview and procedure.  If you wish to have a laboratory staff member for support during the procedure, please tell the pathologist or receptionist before the consultation.

Appointments are required

Appointments are required for FNA biopsies.

Where we do biopsies

We carry out FNA biopsies at:

  • Wellington SCL, Wellington Hospital, Riddiford Street, Newtown, Wellington

Click here to download and print the patient infromation brochure