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Skin lesion 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.

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Basal Cell Carcinoma - close-up
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How the Test is Performed

There are several ways to do a skin biopsy. Most procedures can be done in your provider's office or an outpatient medical office. It will take about 15 minutes.

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.

SHAVE BIOPSY

PUNCH BIOPSY

EXCISIONAL BIOPSY

INCISIONAL BIOPSY

MOHS MICROSURGERY

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell your provider:

Follow your provider's instructions on how to prepare for the biopsy.

Why the Test is Performed

Your provider may order a skin biopsy:

Normal Results

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.

What Abnormal Results Mean

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

Risks of a skin biopsy may include:

You will bleed slightly during the procedure. Tell your provider if you have a history of bleeding problems.

Considerations

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.

Related Information

Benign
Chronic

References

Affleck AG, Colver G. Skin biopsy techniques. In: Robinson JK, Hanke CW, Siegel DM, et al, eds. Surgery of the Skin: Procedural Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 11.

Habif TP. Dermatologic surgical procedures. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 27.

Olbricht S. Biopsy techniques and basic excisions. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 146.

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Review Date: 12/2/2014  

Reviewed By: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update: 03/09/2016.

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