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Skin biopsy

A skin biopsy is where a small sample of skin is taken and sent to a laboratory for testing and analysis under a microscope.

This helps doctors, for example dermatologists, diagnose skin cancer, infections, and other skin disorders.

There are several types of skin biopsy, including:

  • Shave biopsy: The doctor shaves a thin layer from the top of a lesion.
  • Punch biopsy: The doctor uses an instrument called a punch biopsy tool to remove a cylindrical section through all layers of the lesion.
  • Excisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to take away the entire lesion. This method is used for smaller lesions.
  • Incisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to remove a small sample of a large lesion.

How is a skin biopsy performed?

The doctor will first clean the biopsy site, and then numb the skin by using an anaesthetic pain-relieving spray, cream or injection. A sample of the skin is then taken using one of the above procedures. Shave biopsies do not usually need stitches, while punch, excisional, and incisional biopsies will sometimes be closed with sutures. The procedure is usually done in the doctor's surgery or hospital out-patient clinic.

Skin biopsies usually take around 20-30 minutes and you can go home afterwards and will get the results in a follow-up appointment or by letter.

What to expect following a biopsy

After the biopsy is performed you may have some soreness around the biopsied site for one to two weeks. Pain relieving medication is usually sufficient to relieve any discomfort. If you had stitches after the biopsy procedure, keep the area as clean and as dry as possible. Your doctor will tell you when the stitches should be removed (usually within two weeks). If adhesive steri-strips (which look like small pieces of tape) were used to close the incision, do not remove them. They will gradually fall off on their own. If the strips do not fall off on their own, your doctor will remove them at your next follow-up appointment.

You should expect a small scar from the biopsy.

What is done with the biopsy sample?

The tissue is processed, and a pathologist examines the biopsy sample under a microscope to determine if there is any disease. The results usually come back within 1-2 weeks.

When should I seek medical advice?

Seek medical advice if you have bleeding that can't be stopped by applying pressure, if the scar becomes reddened, tender, swollen or oozes pus, or if you have any questions or concerns after the procedure.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 19, 2017

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