A skin biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of skin for testing. There are three main types of skin biopsies:
- Shave biopsy—outer part of the area is removed
- Punch biopsy—a small cylinder of skin is removed using a punch tool
- Excisional biopsy—an entire area of abnormal skin is removed
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Reasons for Procedure
A skin biopsy may be done to diagnose:
- Infection—may be from bacteria, virus, or fungus
Inflammation such as
- Skin cancer
or benign skin growths—if possible, the entire growth will be removed
Skin biopsy may also be done to:
- Make sure a tumor was completely removed—by testing remaining skin
- Monitor the effect of a treatment
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Poor wound healing
- Nerve damage
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Suppressed immune system
- Bleeding disorders
- Circulatory problems
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
No special preparation is needed for this procedure.
Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being treated.
Description of the Procedure
The area will be cleaned. Medication will be applied to the skin or injected to numb the area. The exact steps will depend on the type of biopsy:
- Shave biopsy—A special blade will shave off a thin piece of skin.
- Punch biopsy—A special tool is used. The tip of the tool is pushed into the skin. As it is pushed down, the tool will be turned. It will cut a circular sample of skin. The sample will show all of the layers of the skin. Stitches may be needed to close the hole.
- Excision biopsy—The entire area of abnormal skin will be removed with a scalpel. This biopsy will make a larger and deeper hole in the skin. Stitches will be placed to close the hole left in the skin.
After the procedure, a clean dressing will be placed over the area.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medication can help to manage the discomfort. .
Once you feel ready you will able to leave. You will need to follow some basic care steps once you are home. This will include keeping the area clean and dry. You will also need to watch for bleeding or signs of infection.
Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days. Your doctor will check in the area to make sure it is healing as expected or remove stitches. It can take 2-10 days to get the result of your test.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
- Red streaks on your skin that extend away from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
- New or unexpected symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Biopsy of Skin. DermNet NZ website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/skin-biopsy. Updated September 2016. Accessed March 27, 2018.
Pickett H. Shave and punch biopsy for skin lesions. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(9):995-1002.
Skin biopsy. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/skin-biopsy.html. Updated June 2015. Accessed March 27, 2018.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905141/Treatment-for-tobacco-use: 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.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated: 4/6/2018