Skin Biopsies

Skin biopsy is a procedure performed in the doctor's office that removes a portion of skin for diagnostic testing. Skin biopsies are frequently performed on dark spots, moles, or other skin lesions to determine if they may be skin cancer. A dermatologist or dermatopathologist examines the remove tissue under a microscope. The results of the biopsy are provided in a pathology report. It may take 4-10 days to obtain the pathology report.

What happens during a skin biopsy?

The type of skin biopsy preformed depends on the suspected cause of the skin lesion and its location on the body. First the doctor numbs the area of skin to be biopsied with a local anesthetic (lidocaine). The doctor then removes the lesion in one of the following ways:

  • Shave biopsy is performed with either a small scalpel blade or a curved razor blade, The blade removes only a small portion of the lesion leaving the skin primarily intact. Electrocautery may be performed to heat the wound and stop any bleeding. Shave biopsies are frequently performed on lesions suspected to be basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
  • Punch biopsy is performed with a round knife, similar to a very small cookie cutter. Stitches may be required to close the wound, though small punch biopsies may heal without stitches.
  • Excisional biopsy is performed with a scalpel. It is used to create an elliptical cut around the lesion and obtain some of the subcutaneous fat below the dermis. An excisional biopsy is frequently performed for lesions suspected to be melanoma. The wound created by an excisional biopsy is usually closed with stitches (sutures).