Skin Biopsy
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Skin Biopsy

(Skin Lesion Biopsy; Shave Biopsy; Punch Biopsy; Excision Biopsy)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

A skin biopsy is the removal of a small portion of abnormal skin. The removed skin is tested to see why it is not normal. There are three main types of skin biopsies:

  • Shave biopsy—The outer part of the suspect area is removed.
  • Punch biopsy—A small cylinder of skin is removed using a punch tool.
  • Excisional biopsy—The entire area of abnormal skin is removed.

Punch Biopsy

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Reasons for Procedure

A skin biopsy is used to evaluate and/or remove an area of abnormal skin. It is most often done for the following reasons:

  • To diagnose bacterial, viral, or fungal infection, cancer, inflammatory skin disorders (such as psoriasis), or benign skin growths
  • To verify the presence of normal skin at the edge of an area where a tumor was removed
  • To monitor the effectiveness of a treatment

Possible Complications

Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a skin biopsy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Poor wound healing
  • Scarring
  • Nerve damage

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Immunosuppression
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Circulatory problems

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

No special preparation is needed for this procedure.

Anesthesia

Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being biopsied.

Description of the Procedure

  • Shave biopsy—A thin slice from the top of the skin will be removed.
  • Punch biopsy—A hollow punch tool will be gently pushed into the skin. As it is pushed down, the tool will be rotated to cut the skin. The circular punch of skin will then be cut free. This type of biopsy will provide a sample containing cells from all of the layers of the skin. Depending on the size of the punch, stitches will be placed to close the hole.
  • Excision biopsy—A scalpel will be used to remove the entire area of abnormal skin. This procedure cuts a larger and deeper hole in the skin. Stitches will be placed to close the hole left in the skin.

After the procedure, clean steri-strips will often be placed to help keep the wound closed. A clean dressing will be placed over the area.

How Long Will It Take?

5-20 minutes

Will It Hurt?

There may be some temporary pain and discomfort after the procedure.

Post-procedure Care

Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. Keep it covered with a sterile bandage for 1-2 days. If steri-strips were applied, they will fall off on their own in about a week.

Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water. Pat the wound dry after you have washed it with a mild soap. Do not submerge the wound in water until it is well-healed.

Take pain medicine if necessary.

Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days, depending on where they are located. Ask your doctor when you can expect the results of the biopsy.

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

Call Your Doctor

After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
  • Any new symptoms

In case of emergency, CALL 911 .

RESOURCES:

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery
http://www.asds.net/

National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dermatology Association
http://www.dermatology.ca/

Cancer Care Ontario
http://www.cancercare.on.ca/

References:

American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/default.htm.

Habif T. Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2004.

Zaret BL, Jatlow PI, Katz LD. The Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1997.

6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.



Last reviewed December 2010 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD


Last updated Updated: 5/4/2011

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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