Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Skin lesion biopsy

A skin lesion biopsy is the removal of a piece of suspected abnormal skin to diagnose or rule out an illness.

Alternative Names

Punch biopsy; Shave biopsy; Skin biopsy; Biopsy - skin

How the Test is Performed

There are several ways to do a skin biopsy. Most procedures are easily done in your doctor's office or an outpatient medical office.

Which procedure you have depends on the location, size, and type of lesion. A lesion is an abnormal area of the skin. This can be a lump, sore, or an area of skin color that is not normal.

You will receive some type of numbing medicine (anesthetic) before any type of skin biopsy. Types of skin biopsies are described below.

Shave Biopsy

A shave biopsy is the least invasive method. Your doctor uses a small blade to remove the outermost layers of skin. The area removed includes all or part of the lesion. You do not need stitches. At the end of the procedure, medicine is applied to the area to stop any bleeding.

Punch Biopsy

A punch  biopsy is most often used for deeper skin lesions. Your doctor uses a skin punch tool to remove a small round piece of skin. The area removed is about the size of a pencil eraser. It includes all or part of the lesion. Medicine is put on the area to stop any bleeding. Often, the area is closed with stitches.

Excisional Biopsy

An excisional biopsy is usually done by a surgeon. During the procedure, the entire lesion is removed. Numbing medicine is injected into the area. The entire lesion is removed, going as deep as needed to get the whole area. The area is closed with stitches. If a large area is biopsied, a skin graft or flap of normal skin may be used to replace the skin that was removed.

Incisional Biopsy

An incisional biopsy takes only a piece of a large lesion for examination. Numbing medicine is injected into the area. A piece of the growth is cut and sent to the lab for examination. You may have stitches, if needed. The rest of the growth can be treated after the diagnosis is made.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell your health care provider:

  • About the medicines you are taking, including vitamins and supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter medicines
  • If you have any allergies
  • If you have bleeding problems
  • If you are or think you might be pregnant

Follow your health care provider's instructions on how to prepare for the biopsy.

How the Test will Feel

There is a brief prick and sting as the anesthetic is injected. The biopsy area may be tender for a few days afterward.

Why the Test is Performed

Your doctor may order a skin biopsy if you have signs or symptoms of:

  • Chronic or acute skin rashes
  • Noncancerous (benign ) growths
  • Skin cancer
  • Other skin conditions

Normal Results

A normal result means that the skin area that was removed is healthy. Doctors call this a negative biopsy result.

What Abnormal Results Mean

The test may reveal skin cancer or a noncancerous (benign ) condition. Bacteria and fungi can be identified. The test may also reveal some types of inflammatory skin diseases. Once the diagnosis is confirmed with the biopsy, a treatment plan is usually started.

Risks

Risks of a skin biopsy may include:

You will bleed slightly during the procedure. Tell your doctor if you have a history of bleeding problems.

References

Affleck AG, Colver G. Skin biopsy techniques. In: Robinson JK, Hanke CW, Siegel DM, Fratila A, eds. Surgery of the Skin: Procedural Dermatology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 11.

Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 27.

Updated: 9/20/2013

Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com