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Skin Biopsy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is a skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy is a procedure used to remove a small piece of skin for testing. The type of biopsy you need will depend on the condition your healthcare provider wants to test for. Common conditions include cancer or precancer. A precancer growth is not cancer yet, but it could become cancer later. A skin condition such as eczema, rash, or a skin infection may also be reasons for a biopsy. You may need to have treatment depending on the results of the skin biopsy tests.

What will happen during my skin biopsy?

  • Your healthcare provider will clean the skin where he or she will do the biopsy. He or she will use a local anesthetic medicine to make you more comfortable during your procedure. This medicine is a shot put into the skin that will numb the area, and dull your pain. You may still feel pressure or pushing during the procedure after you get this medicine.
  • The procedure will depend on the type of biopsy you have:
    • A punch biopsy is used to take the whole thickness of a small, round piece of skin. The punch tool will be placed on the area where the skin sample will be taken. Your healthcare provider will move and press the punch downward to cut the skin. Once the skin is loosened, your healthcare provider will pull it up, and cut it out. Stitches are used to close the wound.
    • A shave biopsy is used to scrape off a top layer of skin. Your healthcare provider will first inject medicine into your skin. This will cause the area to be raised. Your provider will use a blade or other tool to scrape or shave off the raised area of skin.
    • An excisional biopsy is used if you have a growth or sore that needs to be tested for cancer. Your healthcare provider will cut the growth off the skin. Layers of skin and fat may be taken. The area will be closed with stitches.
    • An incisional biopsy is also used to test for cancer, but only part of a growth or sore is removed. Your healthcare provider will cut part of the growth out. The area may need to be closed with stitches.
  • Your healthcare provider may put medicine on your wound to stop the area from bleeding. The skin sample will be sent to a lab for tests.

What will happen after my skin biopsy?

A bandage will cover the biopsy area to keep it clean and dry. The bandage will help to protect the area from infection. When the procedure is over, you may be able to go home. You may have some bleeding, oozing, redness, or swelling after the biopsy. These are normal. You may also have pain during the first 24 to 48 hours after your procedure. The area may be closed with strips of medical tape instead of stitches. Leave the strips in place. They will fall off on their own in about 7 to 10 days.

What are the risks of a skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy may cause you to bleed from the biopsy area, or get an infection. You may have bruising, swelling, or pain in the area where the biopsy was done. You may have scarring from where the skin tissue was removed. You are at higher risk of having problems healing after your procedure if you smoke, or take steroid medicines. You may have an allergic response from the numbing medicine used for the procedure.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.