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Autopsy vs. Biopsy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 8, 2023
Autopsy is a post-mortem examination of a body; Biopsy involves removing tissue from a living person for diagnosis.

Key Differences

Autopsy and Biopsy are both medical procedures, but their purposes, contexts, and methods vary considerably. An Autopsy is a comprehensive examination conducted on a deceased individual's body. This examination is performed to determine the cause of death or to study disease processes. In contrast, a Biopsy involves the extraction of tissue or cells from a living person to identify the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.
While Autopsy is typically performed by a forensic pathologist or an anatomical pathologist, the procedure of Biopsy can be carried out by doctors across various specialties, depending on where the tissue is taken from. For instance, a dermatologist might perform a skin Biopsy, whereas a gastroenterologist could conduct a liver Biopsy. Autopsy, on the other hand, generally encompasses an examination of the entire body or specific organs.
It's crucial to note that Autopsies are post-mortem, meaning they occur after death. Biopsies, however, are predominantly diagnostic tools, used to confirm or rule out conditions, often malignancies. A patient undergoing a Biopsy is typically awaiting results to determine a treatment path, whereas an Autopsy seeks answers posthumously.
Lastly, the emotional and ethical contexts surrounding Autopsy and Biopsy can differ. Families might request an Autopsy to gain closure or clarity on a loved one's passing. Biopsies are often procedures accompanied by anxiety and hope, as patients and families await potentially life-altering results.

Comparison Chart

Primary Purpose

Determine cause of death or study disease
Diagnose or confirm presence of a disease

Performed On

Deceased individuals
Living individuals


Whole body or specific organs
Small tissue or cell samples

Typical Practitioner

Forensic or anatomical pathologist
Various specialists, depending on tissue source

Emotional Context

Posthumous answers, closure
Anticipation, diagnosis, treatment determination

Autopsy and Biopsy Definitions


Procedure to study disease after death.
Researchers often rely on Autopsy data to understand progressive diseases.


Procedure to extract tissue for diagnostic analysis.
The doctor suggested a Biopsy to check for malignancy.


Analysis of a deceased person to determine cause of death.
An Autopsy is pending to establish the exact circumstances of his passing.


Surgical removal of cells for examination.
The skin Biopsy came back clear, ruling out cancer.


Post-mortem examination of a body.
The Autopsy revealed an undiagnosed heart condition.


Diagnostic test involving tissue sampling.
A liver Biopsy can confirm the extent of liver damage.


Medical examination posthumously.
The sudden and unexpected death warranted an Autopsy.


Medical examination of removed tissue.
The patient's symptoms necessitated a muscle Biopsy.


Examination of a cadaver to determine or confirm the cause of death. Also called necropsy, postmortem, postmortem examination.


Test to ascertain or confirm a disease's presence.
The surgeon performed a Biopsy to diagnose the lump's nature.


A critical assessment or examination after the fact
A post-election campaign autopsy.


The removal and examination of a sample of tissue from a living body for diagnostic purposes.


To subject to an autopsy.


A sample so obtained.


A dissection performed on a cadaver to find possible cause(s) of death.
The autopsy revealed he had died of multiple bullet wounds.


To remove (tissue) from a living body for diagnostic purposes.


An after-the-fact examination, especially of the causes of a failure.


The removal and examination of a sample of tissue, cells, or bodily fluid from a living body for diagnostic purposes.
We will need to perform a biopsy to determine whether the tumour is malignant or benign.


(rare) An eyewitness observation, the presentation of an event as witnessed.


To take a sample (a biopsy) for pathological examination.
They biopsied the lump but it turned out to be non-cancerous.


(transitive) To perform an autopsy on.


Examination of tissues or liquids from the living body to determine the existence or cause of a disease


(transitive) To perform an after-the-fact analysis of, especially of a failure.


Personal observation or examination; seeing with one's own eyes; ocular view.
By autopsy and experiment.


Dissection of a dead body, for the purpose of ascertaining the cause, seat, or nature of a disease; a post-mortem examination.


An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease


Perform an autopsy on a dead body; do a post-mortem


Surgical examination of a corpse.
The medical examiner conducted the Autopsy meticulously.


Is an Autopsy always performed after death?

Yes, Autopsies are post-mortem examinations.

What can an Autopsy reveal?

Causes of death, disease processes, injuries, and undiagnosed conditions.

Who typically conducts an Autopsy?

A forensic or anatomical pathologist usually performs Autopsies.

Why would an Autopsy be declined?

Religious beliefs, cultural reasons, or family wishes might lead to declined Autopsies.

How long does it take to get results from a Biopsy?

It varies but generally takes a few days to a couple of weeks.

Can an Autopsy be performed without family consent?

In some cases, like suspicious deaths, Autopsies can be mandated by law.

Is a Biopsy a major surgery?

No, most Biopsies are minimally invasive procedures.

Is a Biopsy painful?

Some discomfort may be felt, but pain is usually minimal with local anesthesia.

How long does a Biopsy procedure take?

Most Biopsies are quick, often completed within 30 minutes to an hour.

Can a Biopsy detect cancer?

Yes, Biopsies are often used to diagnose or rule out cancer.

Can an Autopsy detect infections?

Yes, Autopsies can reveal infections present at the time of death.

Can a Biopsy cause spread of disease?

It's rare, but there's a minimal risk of spreading disease cells during a Biopsy.

Are Autopsy results public?

Typically, Autopsy results are confidential but can be made public in legal situations.

Can Autopsies be conducted on animals?

Yes, Autopsies on animals are often called necropsies.

Is consent required for Autopsy?

Generally, family consent is sought, unless it's a legal requirement.

How deep do they cut during a Biopsy?

Depth varies depending on the tissue being sampled; some are superficial, others deeper.

Are all Autopsies the same?

No, Autopsies can range from specific organ examinations to full-body analysis.

Why would a doctor request a Biopsy?

To diagnose, confirm, or rule out diseases, especially malignancies.

Are there different types of Biopsy?

Yes, Biopsies vary like needle, punch, incisional, and excisional Biopsies.

Are there risks associated with Biopsy?

Any procedure has risks, but Biopsy risks are generally low, like infection or bleeding.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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