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Skin Biopsy

What is Skin Biopsy

Your doctor may want to obtain a sample of skin in order to diagnose diseases of the skin, such as those caused by skin tumors, other types of growths, infections, or other skin conditions. This procedure is called a skin biopsy.

A biopsy of a lesion of the skin can help your doctor tell the difference between a skin cancer and a benign, or noncancerous, lesion. The skin sample obtained during a biopsy is sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.

How the procedure is performed:

  • In a punch biopsy, a sharp cookie cutter - like instrument is used to remove a small cylinder of skin. Sometimes stitches are necessary to close this type of biopsy wound.
  • A shave biopsy is a procedure where the outermost part of a lesion can also be removed with a scalpel. No suturing is required to close this wound.

Risks of Skin Biopsy

You should discuss with your doctor the following potential risks and complications of the biopsy procedure. You may need to sign a consent form before the procedure is performed.

Possible risks include these:

  • Bleeding from the biopsy site
  • Pain
  • Local reaction to the anesthetic
  • Infection
  • Healing problems - If you tend to form large, overgrown scars (keloids), you have an increased chance of forming a similar lesion over the biopsy site. Smoking and some chronic medical conditions such as diabetes affect the healing ability of the skin.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2015
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Skin Biopsy:

Skin Biopsy - Preparation

How did you prepare for your skin biopsy?

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Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Biopsy

What are the types of biopsies?

There are several types of biopsies:

  • Excisional biopsy. If your doctor finds an area of interest or a suspicious finding (for example, an enlarged nevus, or mole), often an excisional biopsy is performed to remove the area in question in its entirety during the biopsy.
  • Incisional biopsy. An incisional biopsy refers to removal of only a portion of the area of interest (for example, sampling of a small fragment of tissue from a larger breast lump).
  • Fine needle biopsy. A fine needle biopsy is used to remove cells or fluid by suctioning through a long, thin needle.
  • Core needle biopsy. During a core needle biopsy, the doctor inserts a special needle through a skin incision that removes a very thin, cylindrical piece of tissue.

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