Skin biopsy; Shave biopsy - skin; Punch biopsy - skin; Excisional biopsy - skin; Incisional biopsy - skin; Skin cancer - biopsy; Melanoma - biopsy; Squamous cell cancer - biopsy; Basal cell cancer - biopsy
A skin lesion biopsy is when a small amount of skin is removed so it can be examined. The skin is tested to look for skin conditions or diseases. A skin biopsy can help your health care provider diagnose or rule out problems such as skin cancer or psoriasis.
Most procedures can be done in your provider's office or an outpatient medical office. There are several ways to do a skin biopsy. Which procedure you have depends on the location, size, and type of lesion. A lesion is an abnormal area of the skin. This can be a lump, sore, or an area of skin color that is not normal.
Before a biopsy, your provider will numb the area of skin so you don't feel anything. The different types of skin biopsies are described below.
Tell your provider:
Follow your provider's instructions on how to prepare for the biopsy.
Your provider may order a skin biopsy:
The tissue that was removed is examined under a microscope. Results are most often returned in a few days to a week or more.
If a skin lesion is benign (not cancer), you may not need any further treatment. If the whole skin lesion was not removed at the time of biopsy, you and your provider may decide to completely remove it.
Once the biopsy confirms the diagnosis, your provider will start a treatment plan. A few of the skin problems that may be diagnosed are:
Risks of a skin biopsy may include:
You will bleed slightly during the procedure.
You will go home with a bandage over the area. The biopsy area may be tender for a few days afterward. You may have a small amount of bleeding.
Depending on what type of biopsy you had, you will be given instructions on how to care for:
The goal is to keep the area clean and dry. Be careful not to bump or stretch the skin near the area, which can cause bleeding. If you have stitches, they will be taken out in about 3 to 14 days.
If you have moderate bleeding, apply pressure to the area for 10 minutes or so. If the bleeding does not stop, call your provider right away. You should also call your provider if you have signs of infection, such as:
Once the wound heals, you may have a scar.
Dinulos JGH. Dermatologic surgical procedures. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 27.
High WA, Tomasini CF, Argenziano G, Zalaudek I. Basic principles of dermatology. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 0.
Pfenninger JL. Skin biopsy. In: Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 26.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 7/12/2019
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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