When noninvasive techniques fail to confirm or rule out the suspicion of a malignant lesion, fine needle aspiration biopsy may provide an efficient, economical and relatively safe method of obtaining material for cytological study. The technique may also be valuable for intraoperative morphological evaluation. Traumatic complications produced by fine (21-25 gauge) needles are infrequent and almost never serious, and concerns about tumor seeding through the procedure have been largely dispelled by recent studies. Reliable results require a high level of skill in performing the aspiration procedure and in cytologically examining the small amount of material obtained. The authors review the history, applications, techniques and complications of fine needle aspiration biopsy, presenting guidelines for and illustrations of its use in specific ophthalmic situations.