A skin biopsy is the removal of a small piece of skin for lab tests. It may be done to help diagnose a problem with the skin. Another name for this procedure is cutaneous biopsy.
When is it used?
Reasons for doing this procedure may include:
You may have an internal disease that a skin biopsy may explain.
You may have a skin disease or cancer.
Your skin may have become discolored.
Your skin may be inflamed.
The biopsy helps your healthcare provider make a more accurate diagnosis, which will help determine the right treatment for problems you may be having. It will also help your provider to predict the probable course or results of a disease.
You may choose not to have this test. Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.
How do I prepare for this procedure?
Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
Follow any other instructions your provider may give you.
Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what the healthcare provider is going to do and how long it will take you to recover.
What happens during the procedure?
This procedure is done in your healthcare providerâ€™s office or at a clinic.
In most cases your healthcare provider will numb your skin with a spray or shot of local anesthetic. It should keep you from feeling pain during the biopsy.
There are different types of skin biopsy.
For an incisional biopsy, a knife called a scalpel is used to take a small piece of skin. An excisional biopsy is a special kind of incisional biopsy: a whole lump or abnormal area is taken out rather than just a sample. The skin is then sewn back together.
A punch biopsy is done with a sharp, circular knife, which takes a little circle of skin about one quarter inch wide and deep. This allows deeper layers of skin to be examined.
A shave biopsy is the removal of just the surface of a usually tiny piece of skin. It may also be used to remove a small growth on the skin. A scalpel or razor-blade-like tool is used to skim the surface.
What happens after the procedure?
After the procedure you may stay in a recovery area for a short time and then you can go home.
Follow your provider’s instructions for taking care of your wound. You may have some soreness around the cut for 1 or 2 weeks.
You will likely have a small scar from the biopsy.
Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
What are the risks of this procedure?
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Some possible risks include:
Anesthesia has some risks. Discuss these risks with your healthcare provider.
You may have infection or bleeding.
There is risk with every treatment or procedure. Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.
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Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2012-06-30 Last reviewed: 2012-03-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Reszko A, Aasi SZ, Wilson LD, et al.: Cancer of the skin. In: DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011, pp 1610-33.