Percutaneous Diagnosis of Chest, Lung Problems

You’ve been told you need a percutaneous procedure to diagnose a problem in your chest or lung. This procedure lets the doctor to remove tissue or fluid (biopsy) from the chest or lung. For these procedures, the skin of the chest is numbed. Then a needle is passed through the skin.

Cross section of body wall showing needle taking tissue sample from lung mass.

Cross section of body wall showing needle removing pleural fluid.

Fine needle aspiration

Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a procedure used for taking a tissue sample from a mass. First, a CT scan is done. This helps the doctor locate the mass. Then, a thin needle is inserted through the skin of the chest into the mass. Another CT scan is taken to ensure the needle is placed properly. Once the needle is in place, a small amount of tissue is drawn (aspirated) into the needle. The tissue sample is then sent for testing. 


Thoracentesis is used to drain abnormal buildup of fluid between the lungs and chest wall (the pleural space). For the procedure, a needle is put through the skin of the chest into the pleural space. Fluid is then drawn into the needle and later tested for cancer and other problems. 

Preparing for the procedure

Before your procedure, do the following:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about eating and drinking.

  • Tell your doctor about the medicines or herbal supplements you take. You may need to stop taking certain medicines before the procedure, especially aspirin, warfarin, or other blood thinners.

  • Talk with your doctor about any allergies and health problems you may have.

  • Tell your doctor if you are or could be pregnant.

During the procedure

You receive local anesthesia (numbing medicine) to keep you from feeling pain. The area where the needle goes in is numbed. If your doctor uses ultrasound to guide the needle, you will also have cool gel placed on your skin in the area to help the ultrasound probe move around. Medicine to help you relax (sedation) may also be given through an intravenous (IV) line.

After the procedure

You may have some pain after the procedure. You will be given medicine to help ease any pain. You can go home after you recover from anesthesia, usually the same day as the procedure. If you received sedation, an adult family member or friend will need to drive you home. If a tube was placed in your chest to drain fluid and was left in, you will stay in the hospital for at least 1 day or more. Your doctor will tell you more.

 Risks and complications

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Injury to other structures in the chest

  • Collapsed lung


 When to call your healthcare provider

  • Coughing up blood

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Fever of 100.4ºF or higher