A skin biopsy is a procedure in which a doctor cuts and removes a small sample of skin to have it tested. This sample may help your doctor diagnose diseases such as skin cancer, infection, or other skin disorders.
There are several types of skin biopsy, including:
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2010 issue, we turned to WebMD's Skin Care Expert, Karyn Grossman, MD, to get advice on dealing with those pesky little bumps that so many of us have on our upper arms.
Q. I have lots of little bumps on my upper arms -- I don't like going sleeveless. What are they? Can I get rid of them?
A. Those little bumps are caused by keratosis pilaris, a common skin condition...
Shave biopsy: The doctor shaves a thin layer from the top of a lesion.
Punch biopsy: The doctor uses an instrument called a punch to remove a circular section through all layers of the lesion.
Excisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to take off the entire lesion. This method is used for smaller lesions.
Incisional biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to remove a small sample of a large lesion.
How Is a Skin Biopsy Done?
The doctor will first cleanse the biopsy site, and then numb the skin by using an anesthetic (pain-relieving) injection. The skin is then sampled using one of the above procedures. Shave biopsies do not usually need stitches, while punch, excisional, and incisional biopsies will sometimes be closed with sutures or steri-strips. The procedure is usually done in the doctor's office.
What to Expect After a Skin Biopsy
After the skin biopsy is done you may have some soreness around the biopsied site for a few days. Tylenol is usually sufficient to relieve any discomfort. If you had stitches after the procedure, keep the area as clean and as dry as possible. Your doctor will tell you when the stitches should be removed (usually within one week). If adhesive steri-strips (which look like small pieces of tape) were used to close the incision, do not remove them. They will gradually fall off on their own. If the strips do not fall off on their own, your health care provider will remove them at your follow-up appointment.
You should expect a small scar from the biopsy.
What Is Done With a Skin Biopsy Sample?
The tissue is processed, and a pathologist examines the skin biopsy sample under a microscope to determine if there is any disease. The results usually come back within one to two weeks.
When Should I Call the Doctor After a Skin Biopsy?
Call your doctor if you have bleeding that can't be stopped by applying pressure, or if you have any questions or concerns after a skin biopsy.