A skin biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of abnormal skin is removed for testing. There are 3 main types of skin biopsies:
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A skin biopsy is used to test an area of abnormal skin. If possible, the entire area will be removed during the biopsy. A skin biopsy may be done to diagnose:
Skin biopsy may also be done to:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will review potential problems, like:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
No special preparation is needed for this procedure.
Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being treated.
The involved area will be prepared. The skin 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:
After the procedure, a clean dressing will be placed over the area.
There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medication may be advised to reduce discomfort. .
Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. Keep it covered with a sterile bandage for 1-2 days. Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days, depending on where they are located. The area will need to be cleaned to prevent infection. Do not get the area wet unless the doctor says it is okay to do so.
After arriving home, contact the doctor if any of the following occur:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Pickett H. Shave and punch biopsy for skin lesions. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(9):995-1002.
Skin biopsy. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/skin-biopsy.html. Updated July 2012. Accessed February 25, 2015.
Skin biopsy. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/procedures/biopsy.html. Updated December 13, 2014. Accessed February 25, 2015.
6/3/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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