What is skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy is a diagnostic procedure where your doctor removes a section of skin to examine. Your doctor may order a skin biopsy to diagnose skin cancer, a skin infection or many other skin diseases.

What are the types of skin biopsies?

There are a variety of procedures your doctor could use to perform a skin biopsy including:

Shave biopsy

During a shave biopsy, your doctor will remove a thin slice of the skin from the top layer. He or she will send the sample to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Punch biopsy

During a punch biopsy, your doctor will take small, round area of tissue from the affected area. A punch biopsy is typically used to diagnose rashes or other conditions. 

Excision biopsy

Your doctor will perform an excision to evaluate larger, deeper area of interest. In most cases, an excision is used as a treatment instead of a diagnostic test. The goal of an excision is to remove the entire lesion. 

Incisional biopsy

During an incisional biopsy, your doctor will remove a sample of a larger lesion to diagnose your skin condition.

Who is a candidate for a skin biopsy?

Your doctor may recommend a skin biopsy to remove a lesion on the skin or to diagnose several skin conditions including:

  • Actinic keratosis
  • Skin disorders characterized by blistering such as bullous
  • Skin infections 
  • Basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer)
  • Melanoma (skin cancer)
  • Dermatitis 
  • Warts, moles or other growths

What to expect during a skin biopsy

A skin biopsy is typically performed in a doctor’s clinic. Before the procedure, your care team will numb the affected area with a local anesthesia. Your doctor will then perform one of the types of skin biopsy procedures to obtain a sample of skin for evaluation. The procedure takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes to perform.

Risks of a skin biopsy

Complications associated with a skin biopsy are rare but can occur. Complications include:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Scarring
  • Allergic reaction
  • Infection at incision site

Recovery from a skin biopsy

Most patients go home after a skin biopsy and do not require a hospital stay. Once at home, you may feel pain or soreness around the affected area. Soreness may continue a week or more. If you are experiencing mild to moderate pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol may provide relief.

Before leaving the clinic, your doctor will provide detailed instructions on how to care for your wound site. If you have stitches, your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to remove them. Most patients have a small scar after having a skin biopsy.

If you are experiencing severe bleeding, red streaks, pus or warmth around the affected area, call your doctor right away. 

Results from a skin biopsy

Your tissue sample will be sent to a Mercy Health pathologist for examination. The pathologist will evaluate the tissue under the microscope to diagnose your skin condition. Results should be sent to your doctor within two weeks unless you are having a genetic test and results may take a month or more.

Your Mercy Health doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the results and next steps, if necessary.

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