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biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of skin tissue
is removed, processed, and examined under a microscope.
different methods may be used to obtain a skin sample, depending on the size
and location of the abnormal area of skin, called a skin lesion. The skin
sample is placed in a solution, such as formaldehyde, or in a sterile container
if infection is suspected. In each of these procedures, the tissue is processed
and then examined under a microscope.
Skin biopsies most often are
done to diagnose
skin cancer, which may be suspected when an abnormal
area of skin has changed
shape, size, or appearance or has not healed after an
injury. Skin cancers are the most common type of cancers.
diagnosis of a suspicious skin lesion and skin biopsy can help identify skin
cancers and lead to early treatment.
A skin biopsy is done to diagnose
Before a skin biopsy, tell your doctor
No special preparation is needed before having this
You may be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the
risks of the test and agree to have it done.
Talk to your doctor
about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risk, how it
will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the
importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
Usually the place where the biopsy will be taken is cleaned with an alcohol wipe. A marker may be used to outline the edges of the skin sample. For some biopsies, a surgical drape is used to cover the area around the biopsy and the doctor will wear a mask, gown, and gloves.
Several different methods may be used
to obtain a skin sample, depending on the size and location of the skin lesion. The skin sample is placed in a solution, such as formaldehyde, or in a sterile
container if infection is suspected. In each of these procedures, the tissue is
then examined under a microscope.
You will feel brief stinging pain when
the local anesthetic is injected. You should not feel any pain when the skin
sample is removed.
Although unlikely, there is a slight risk of
infection and a slight risk of persistent bleeding. If you usually form scars
after skin injuries or surgery, you could develop a scar at the biopsy
Your doctor will give you
specific instructions on how to care for your biopsy site. Keep the biopsy site
clean and dry until it heals completely.
Your stitches will be
taken out 3 to 14 days after the biopsy, depending on the biopsy site. Adhesive
bandages should remain in place until they fall off. This usually takes from 7
to 14 days.
The biopsy site may be sore or bleed slightly for
several days. Ask your doctor how much bleeding or other drainage is expected.
Call your doctor immediately if you have:
from a skin biopsy usually are available in 3 to 10 days.
The skin sample consists of normal skin
Noncancerous (benign) growths are seen.
Benign growths do not contain cancer cells. Benign skin changes include moles,
cherry angiomas, and benign skin tumors, such as
neurofibromas or dermatofibromas.
Cancer cells such as
basal cell cancer,
squamous cell cancer, or
melanoma are present.
Other diseases such as
vasculitis are present.
fungal infection is present.
Your doctor will talk with you about
any abnormal results that may be related to your symptoms and past health.
Taking medicines, such as
anti-inflammatory medicines, those used for fungal infections (antifungal
corticosteroid skin creams, can interfere with your
test or the accuracy of the results.
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis:
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009).
Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of:
March 22, 2013
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
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