A skin biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of skin for testing. There are three main types:
- Shave biopsy—outer part of the area is removed
- Punch biopsy—a small round piece 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:
- A skin infection
Inflammation such as
- Skin cancer
or non cancer skin growths—if possible, the entire growth will be removed
A skin biopsy may also be done to:
- Make sure a tumor was completely removed
- Check the effect of a treatment
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
- Damage to tissues or structures
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
- Drinking alcohol
- Long term diseases such as diabetes and obesity
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Nothing needs to be done before this procedure.
The doctor may use local anesthesia. The area will be numbed.
Description of the Procedure
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 and turned. It will cut a round 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. The area will be stitched.
After the procedure, a bandage will be placed on the site.
How Long Will It Take?
5 to 20 minutes
Will It Hurt?
There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medicine will help.
At the Care Center
Most can go home after the procedure, when they feel ready.
Skin care will help prevent infection.
Test results should be ready in a few days to a week or so.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Excess bleeding, redness, swelling, or discharge from the incision site
- Red streaks that extend from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medicines
- New or unexpected symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/basal-cell-carcinoma-of-the-skin. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Skin biopsy procedure. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/15305-skin-biopsy-procedure. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Wark KJ, Smith SD, et al. How to perform a skin biopsy. Med J Aust. 2020;212(4):156-158.
Last reviewed July 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 9/21/2021