03 Feb Tests and procedures in clinical trial protocols: basic terminology (Part II, biopsies)

When talking about biopsies, the first important concept we must take into account is that the sample (or specimen) obtained when a biopsy is done can be called “muestra” or “pieza” (“pieza de biopsia”) in Spanish:

  • It is called “muestra” when removing a sample of tissue or fluid using a technique that allows the removing of cells but without preserving the histological architecture of tissue cells.
  • When this architecture is preserved, “pieza” and “pieza de biopsia” are more accurate terms.


Besides, we frequently observe a metonymical use of the word “biopsy”, as in “A biopsy should be taken/obtained at baseline”. Actually, it is the “specimen” what is taken (removed from the body); biopsy is the procedure used to obtain the specimen. Two translations are possible in this case:


  • Debe obtenerse una pieza de biopsia en el periodo basal (or una muestra, if we take into account the above explanation).
  • Debe realizarse una biopsia en el periodo basal.


Types of biopsies:


  1. Needle biopsy = punción biópsica, biopsia por punción. There are two types of needle biopsies:

– Fine-needle biopsy, which is also called fine-needle aspiration, fine-needle aspiration biopsy and aspiration biopsy. Cells or small tissue fragments are obtained by aspiration through a needle connected to a syringe. It corresponds to biopsia con aguja fina, punción biópsica con aguja fina biopsia por punción con aguja fina, biopsia aspirativa, punción aspirativa con aguja fina (PAAF), biopsia aspirativa con aguja fina (BAAF).

– Core-needle biopsy, also called core biopsy or trucut biopsiy. It corresponds to biopsia con aguja gruesa, punción biopsica con aguja gruesa o biopsia por punción con aguja gruesa. In this case the needle gauge is larger to obtain a biopsy core (cilindro tisular) which can be microscopically studied.


Biopsies can be guided through imaging techniques like ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (image-guided biopsy) to determine the location of the tissue to be removed.


  1. Punch biopsy = biopsia en sacabocados. It consists in punching a small hole in an area (the skin) to remove a sample. The instrument used is called “punch” (sacabocados).


  1. Endoscopic biopsies = biopsia endoscópica (or por endoscopia). In this case, an endoscope (endoscopio) is introduced through a hole in the body (the mouth, the anus, the vagina, the urethra) or through a tiny surgical incision and a tiny tissue sample is taken using biopsy forceps (pinzas de biopsia), incorporated into the endoscope. The procedure to take the sample is an endoscopic procedure and its specific name will depend on the area which will be viewed.


Name of the procedure Tool used
Arthroscopy (artroscopia) Arthoscope (artroscopio)
Bronchoscopy (broncoscopia) Bronchoscope (broncoscopio, also broncofibroscopio)
Colonoscopy (colonoscopia) Colonoscope (colonoscopio)
Colposcopy (colposcopia) Colposcope (colposcopio)
Cystoscopy (cistoscopia) Cystoscope (cistoscopio)
Esophagoscopy (esofagoscopia) Esophagoscope (esofagoscopio)
Gastroscopy (gastroscopia) Gastroscope (gastroscopio)
Laparoscopy (laparoscopia) Laparoscope (laparoscopio)
Laryngoscopy (laringoscopia) Laryngoscope (laringoscopio)
Neuroendoscopy (neuroendoscopia) Neuroendoscope (neuroendoscopio)
Proctoscopy (rectoscopia) Proctoscope (rectoscopio)
Sigmoidoscopy (sigmoidoscopia) Sigmoidoscope (sigmoidoscopio)
Thoracoscopy (toracoscopia) Thoracoscope (toracoscopio)


  1. Surgical biopsies (biopsia quirúrgica, biopsia quirúrgica abierta or biopsia a cielo abierto): the surgeon makes an incision to remove some or all of the possible abnormal tissue. They can be:

– Incisional biopsy (biopsia incisional): part of the suspicious area is removed

– Excisional biopsy (biopsia excisional): a whole lump is removed



[Susana Sánchez collaborates with Okodia in biomedical translations]

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