What is a gastric tissue biopsy and culture?

A gastric tissue biopsy and culture are laboratory tests that examine stomach tissue. These tests are typically carried out to determine the cause of a stomach ulcer or other troublesome stomach symptoms.

“Gastric tissue biopsy” is the term used for the examination of tissue removed from your stomach. For a gastric tissue culture, the tissue is placed in a special dish to see if bacteria or other organisms grow.

Read more: Stomach ulcer »

Tissue samples from your stomach are obtained during an endoscopic exam. In this procedure, a long, flexible tube with a small camera (endoscope) is inserted down your throat and esophagus and into your stomach and upper small intestine (duodenum).

With the endoscope, your doctor can view your stomach for irregularities and remove tissue samples for biopsy and culture. The samples are then analyzed for the presence of infections or cancerous cells and signs of inflammation.

Purpose of gastric tissue biopsy and culture

Your doctor may order a gastric tissue biopsy and culture if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:

These laboratory tests can help diagnose cancer and infections, including Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, which can cause ulcers of the stomach.

peptic ulcers. About half the world’s population carries some H. pylori bacteria, but most will never have symptoms.

Symptoms of H. pylori infection include:

Complications can include ulcers, inflammation of your stomach lining and small intestine, and stomach cancer.

Learn more: Chronic gastritis »

Treatment for H. pylori infection includes antibiotics and acid suppression drugs. Follow-up testing may be recommended to see if the treatment is working.

How the gastric tissue is obtained

The best way to get tissue samples from the stomach is through a procedure called an esophagogastroduodenoscopy. It’s more commonly known as an endoscopy or EGD. This is generally done as an outpatient procedure.

Preparation for endoscopy

You’ll be instructed to stop eating and drinking for about 6 to 12 hours before the procedure. You’ll also be advised to stop taking blood-thinning medications. Make sure you get specific instructions from your doctor based on your medical condition.

How the endoscopy works

Dentures or partials must be removed. A nurse inserts an intravenous line (IV) into your vein for medications. You then are given a sedative, a painkiller, and a local anesthetic in your mouth to prevent coughing and gagging. You also need to wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth and the endoscope.

During the procedure, you lie on your left side. Your doctor inserts the endoscope down your throat, through your esophagus, and into your stomach and upper small intestine. Air is pumped into the endoscope to help your doctor see clearly.

Your doctor next performs a visual inspection and takes tissue samples for biopsy and culture.

The procedure takes about 5 to 20 minutes, and the samples are sent to a lab for examination. The results will be sent to your doctor for review.

After the endoscopy

You must refrain from eating and drinking until your gag reflex returns. Your throat may feel a little sore, and you might feel gas and bloating because of the air in the endoscope. These side effects will wear off shortly, and you’ll be able to return home the same day.

In the lab: How gastric tissue biopsy and culture work

Biopsy tissue samples from your stomach are sent to a laboratory where they are processed and cultured.

For the processed tissue, the biopsy samples from your stomach are examined under a microscope for signs of damage or disease. This is the only way to confirm cancer.

For the culture, biopsy samples from your stomach are placed in a special culture dish. The tissue is monitored to see if bacteria, fungus, viruses, or other organisms grow.

After the biopsy, the actual processed specimen and culture test take place in a laboratory and carry no risk.

Risks and complications

Most people experience few side effects from the endoscopy, but the procedure does have some risks. These include perforation in your stomach, upper small intestine, or esophagus, and bleeding where tissue samples were taken.

There is also a small risk of a bad reaction to the medication (sedative, painkiller, or anesthesia), which could result in:

If you experience any of these symptoms, tell your doctor immediately.

Interpreting your results

When the stomach tissue biopsy and culture don’t show damage, H. pylori bacteria, signs of infection, or cancer, they are usually considered to be normal.

Abnormal stomach tissue biopsy and culture results may be due to:

  • gastric cancer
  • gastritis (inflamed or swollen stomach lining)
  • H. pylori infection (which can cause ulcers)

Your doctor will explain your results in detail. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will discuss the next steps and go over treatment options with you.