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A skin biopsy is the removal of a small portion of abnormal skin. The removed skin is tested to see why it is not normal. There are three main types of skin biopsies:
- Shave biopsy—The outer part of the suspect area is removed.
- Punch biopsy—A small cylinder of skin is removed using a punch tool.
- Excisional biopsy—The entire area of abnormal skin is removed.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
No special preparation is needed for this procedure.
Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being biopsied.
Description of the Procedure
- Shave biopsy—A thin slice from the top of the skin will be removed.
- Punch biopsy—A hollow punch tool will be gently pushed into the skin. As it is pushed down, the tool will be rotated to cut the skin. The circular punch of skin will then be cut free. This type of biopsy will provide a sample containing cells from all of the layers of the skin. Depending on the size of the punch, stitches will be placed to close the hole.
- Excision biopsy—A scalpel will be used to remove the entire area of abnormal skin. This procedure cuts a larger and deeper hole in the skin. Stitches will be placed to close the hole left in the skin.
After the procedure, clean steri-strips will often be placed to help keep the wound closed. A clean dressing will be placed over the area.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
There may be some temporary pain and discomfort after the procedure.
Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. Keep it covered with a sterile bandage for 1-2 days. If steri-strips were applied, they will fall off on their own in about a week.
Be sure to check with your doctor about when you may shower after the procedure. Pat the wound dry after you have washed it with a mild soap. Do not submerge the wound in water until it is well-healed.
Take pain medicine if necessary.
Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days, depending on where they are located. Ask your doctor when you can expect the results of the biopsy.
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Dermatology Association
Cancer Care Ontario
American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2004.
Zaret BL, Jatlow PI, Katz LD.
The Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1997.