What is a Skin Biopsy?

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  • Written By: Margo Upson
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
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A skin biopsy is a medical procedure used to check for skin cancer or an infection, or to diagnose a skin condition, such as psoriasis. It is a routine medical procedure with very few risks, and involves removing a small piece of the skin to be looked at under a microscope. It is generally performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning that the patient comes to the hospital or doctor's office to have the biopsy done, and can go home immediately afterward.

The most common reason for a skin biopsy is to check for skin cancer. A doctor may suspect cancer if there is a suspicious looking mark on the skin, such as a mole that has grown larger or is asymmetrical. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, so doctors are very careful to check any patient has any sign of it.

Before a biopsy, your doctor will discuss with you exactly what a biopsy is, and why it is being done. This is the best time for you to discuss any concerns that you may have. Also, if you are, or may be pregnant, are on blood thinners, or are taking any medications, you need to let your doctor know. You should also let your doctor know about any medications you may be allergic to.


The first thing that will happen when you go in for a skin biopsy is that you will be given paperwork to look over and fill out. A doctor will again explain to you what will be done, and you will be given a local anesthetic at the sight of where the biopsy will be done. After the spot is numb, the doctor will perform the biopsy. There are three ways in which this might be done.

The first way is called a shave biopsy. This type of skin biopsy involves the doctor removing the growth with a scalpel, and then applying pressure to stop the bleeding. The second type of biopsy is a punch biopsy. This is used when the doctor needs a deeper piece of tissue. The punch is similar to a cookie cutter, and presses down into the skin, which is then removed with a scalpel and a pair of tweezers. A small cut may not need stitches, but if a larger sample was taken, you might need a couple of stitches to close up the hole.

An incision biopsy is the third type. This type of biopsy simply involves the doctor removing part of the skin, and then stitching the area back up. This is a deeper version of the shave biopsy. The final type of skin biopsy is called an excision, and requires the doctor to remove the entire lesion. This is the type of biopsy that generally requires the most skin being removed, and the most stitches to close up the biopsy site. Depending on how large the excision is, a skin graft may be necessary.

After the biopsy, it is important to keep the biopsy site clean and dry. There are very few risks for this medical procedure, but an infection is the most common. The area will be sore for several days, and there may be some normal bleeding and drainage, however, if it seems like there is a lot of drainage or bleeding, or if you develop a fever, you should call your doctor immediately. Biopsy results are usually available within three to ten days, and by then the biopsy site should be mostly healed.



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