A biopsy is useful when a digital rectal exam (DRE) or prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test raises suspicions about cancer. It entails removing bits of tissue from the prostate to be examined in the laboratory for cancerous cells. The procedure takes very little time.

While you lie on your side, the doctor inserts an ultrasound probe into the rectum and scans the prostate. A spring-loaded device rapidly inserts a needle through the rectal wall into the prostate and retrieves a tiny tissue sample. The doctor uses the ultrasound image as a guide in taking biopsies from specific areas. Usually, six to 12 samples are obtained. The doctor may inject an anesthetic into the prostate after the ultrasound probe is introduced and before the biopsies are taken, again guided by the ultrasound image. Although you may feel a pinch, no additional anesthesia is necessary.

Taking an antibiotic before and after the procedure reduces the risk for infection. Avoiding aspirin and similar drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), for a week before the biopsy protects against excessive bleeding, which is a possible complication.

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