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Definition:

A skin lesion biopsy is the removal of a piece of 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 can be easily done in outpatient medical offices or your doctor's office.

Which procedure you have depends on several factors, including the location, size, and type of lesion. You will receive some type of numbing medicine (anesthetic) before any type of skin biopsy.

Types of skin biopsies include:

  • Shave biopsy
  • Punch biopsy
  • Excisional biopsy

The shave biopsy is the least invasive of all three techniques. Your doctor will remove the outermost layers of skin. You will not need stitches.

Punch biopsies are most often used for deeper skin lesions. Your doctor removes a small round piece of skin (usually the size of a pencil eraser) using a sharp, hollow instrument. If a large sample is taken, the area may be closed with stitches.

An excisional biopsy is done to remove the entire lesion. A numbing medicine is injected into the area. Then the entire lump, spot, or sore is removed, going as deep as necessary to get the entire area. The area is closed with stitches. Pressure is applied to the area to stop any bleeding. If a large area is biopsied, a skin graft or flap of normal skin may be used to replace the skin that was removed.



How to prepare for the test:

Tell your health care provider:

  • About the medications you are taking (including vitamins and supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter preparations)
  • If you have any allergies
  • If you have bleeding problems
  • If you are pregnant


How the test will feel:

There is a brief prick and sting as the anesthetic is injected. Afterward, the area may be tender.



Why the test is performed:

Your doctor may order a skin biopsy if you have signs or symptoms of skin cancer, benign growths, chronic bacterial and fungal skin infections, or other skin conditions.



Normal Values:

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about what your specific test results mean.



What abnormal results mean:

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



What the risks are:

Risks may include:

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



Special considerations:

Fluid-filled lesions may be examined by skin lesion aspiration instead of skin lesion biopsy.




Review Date: 8/12/2009
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, M.D., Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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