Skin Biopsy: Patient Care Tips

Your dermatologist has recommended a biopsy to help diagnose your skin disease. This tip sheet will provide you with information about what to expect before, during and after your procedure.

Review this information and follow any personalized directions from your dermatologist.

WHAT IS A BIOPSY?

To diagnose some skin diseases, a dermatologist performs a skin biopsy. This simple procedure uses local anesthesia and is the best way to diagnose certain diseases, especially skin cancer. Your dermatologist can perform a biopsy during an office visit.

To perform a biopsy, your dermatologist will remove either the entire skin growth or part of it. The removed skin will be sent to a lab where it will be examined under a microscope.

There are different types of skin biopsies:

  • SHAVE BIOPSY
    • Your dermatologist will use a scalpel or other medical instrument to shave or cut a piece of the suspicious
    • How deep your dermatologist must shave depends on the size of the growth and the part of the body being biopsied.
    • This type of biopsy does cause minimal bleeding. Direct pressure, a topical medicine, or electrocautery (a procedure that uses heat to seal a blood vessel) may be used to stop the
  • PUNCH BIOPSY OR EXCISIONAL BIOPSY
    • This procedure involves cutting into the skin (often to the top layer of the fat) in order to get a deeper sample of the suspicious
    • You may need stitches to close the

BEFORE YOUR BIOPSY

Your dermatologist may ask you questions about:

  • Your health
  • Any medications you are taking, especially blood-thinning medicines like aspirin or warfarin, or immune system suppression medicines such as diabetes medications or medications used after an organ
  • Any previous skin infections
  • Any previous bleeding issues after other medical procedures

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR BIOPSY

  • A skin biopsy is a relatively quick procedure, including the preparation time, dressing the wound and instructions for at-home
  • Your dermatologist will inject local anesthesia to numb the skin where the procedure will take place. This can make the procedure almost
  • Once your skin is numb, your dermatologist will begin the
    • Your dermatologist will send the removed skin - either the entire skin growth or part of it – to a lab where it will be examined under a
  • A dressing or adhesive bandage will be placed on the skin to protect the wound and prevent
    • The biopsied skin may bleed after you leave the dermatologist’s office. If this occurs, apply direct pressure to the wound for 10 to 20 minutes. If bleeding continues, contact your dermatologist, especially if you

are taking blood-thinning medicine.

CARING FOR YOUR SKIN AFTER A BIOPSY

  • You may feel sore at the area of the biopsy for a few days. After most biopsies, patients do not need any pain
    • If you experience some discomfort, place an icepack over the dressing for 5-10 minutes and repeat as needed. You can also take acetaminophen. If these options do not relieve the discomfort, please contact your dermatologist for additional
  • Follow your dermatologist’s recommendation of when to change the original
  • Wash your hands before changing the
  • Always keep the wound clean. Gently wash the area with mild soap and water to keep out
  • To help the injured skin heal, use petroleum jelly to keep the wound
    • Petroleum jelly prevents the wound from drying out and forming a scab; wounds with scabs take longer to heal. This will also help prevent a scar from getting too large, deep or
    • Do not use any topical antibiotic creams unless instructed by your dermatologist. Many topical antibiotic creams can cause allergic reactions. As long as the wound is cleaned daily, it is not necessary to use

an anti-bacterial ointment.

  • After cleaning the wound and applying petroleum jelly, cover your skin with an adhesive
  • Change your bandage daily to keep the wound clean while it heals. If you have skin that is sensitive to

adhesives, try a non-adhesive gauze pad with paper tape.

  • If you have severe pain, redness, oozing from the wound or begin to run a fever, contact your dermatologist

as these could be signs of an infection.

  • If your injury requires stitches, follow your dermatologist’s advice on how to care for the wound and when

to get the stitches removed. This may help minimize the appearance of a scar.

  • After the wound has healed, apply sunscreen on the skin. Sun protection may help reduce red or brown discoloration and help the scar fade faster. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapply

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Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides

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