Skin Biopsy: Understanding the Procedure & Healing

May 15, 2024

Dermatologist performing a skin biopsy

Skin biopsy is a common, minimally invasive surgical procedure performed by dermatologists to provide patients with a diagnosis when lesions develop, or areas of skin have an abnormal appearance. According to Dr. Jinmeng Zhang of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Peoria, Arizona, “A skin biopsy is one of the most accurate ways to provide a diagnosis for skin cancer and other skin health concerns. It helps us to rule out similar conditions so we can give our patients clear answers and make the best treatment recommendations.” In this blog, Dr. Zhang discusses what a skin biopsy is, how the procedure is performed, and what patients can expect after treatment.

Understanding the Skin Biopsy Procedure

Before receiving a skin biopsy, Dr. Zhang says, “You’ll start with a visit to your dermatologist. During this initial consultation, the dermatologist will carefully walk you through the step-by-step process that you’ll undergo. Every skin biopsy procedure will be personalized to the individual, so it’s important to have that dialogue with your dermatologist.” Below, Dr. Zhang outlines the basic process of skin biopsy from start to finish.

  • Step 1 – Your dermatologist will carefully clean the skin around the lesion and numb it with local anesthesia.
  • Step 2 – Your dermatologist will remove the skin to be biopsied as indicated during your consultation. There are many different ways to perform a biopsy, but the most common types of skin biopsy include:
    • Shave biopsy – A razor blade-like surgical device is used to shave off the top layers of skin.
    • Punch biopsy – When deeper layers of skin need to be examined, a punch biopsy may be recommended. This uses a surgical cylindrical-shaped punch tool to remove a sample of the skin.
    • Snip biopsy – Using a sharp scissor-like tool to snip away protruding or hanging lesions to be biopsied.
    • Excision biopsy – For deeper or larger areas with irregular skin, a surgical excision may be recommended to fully sample the abnormal skin layers.
  • Step 3 – Following the biopsy, your dermatologist will care for the surgical site. This may mean stitches, applying medications, and/or placing a bandage over the biopsy site.

Preparation for Skin Biopsy

Before your skin biopsy is scheduled, you’ll visit a dermatologist for a consultation. During this appointment, they’ll examine your skin and ask questions to determine whether a biopsy will be necessary to provide an accurate diagnosis. There are typically no special preparation steps needed before your skin biopsy. If you need to shave or otherwise prepare the biopsy site, your dermatologist will let you know during your consultation visit. Make sure to ask any questions you have during the consultation so your dermatologist can provide answers to prepare you for your upcoming biopsy.

Patient Experience and What to Expect

Your dermatologist will start the skin biopsy procedure with a local anesthetic injection. This injection can be minorly uncomfortable. Some patients may experience a burning, stinging, or painful sensation during and immediately after injection. Dermatologists will use a fine gauge needle to minimize the discomfort. During the biopsy, patients report experiencing pressure or tugging sensation, but the anesthesia should numb any pain. If you experience pain during the procedure, let your dermatologist know immediately. The entire procedure usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete. After treatment, your local anesthetic will gradually wear off. As this happens, you may begin to experience some discomfort, but this should be manageable using over-the-counter pain relievers unless otherwise directed by your dermatologist.

Healing After a Skin Biopsy

Following your skin biopsy, your dermatologist will provide you with step-by-step instructions to ensure you heal quickly and comfortably. You should leave the office with a bandage covering the wound. You’ll need to remove the bandage the next day, clean the surgical site, apply any topical ointments or medications as directed, and then place a new bandage. It’s important to keep the site clean and moist. This promotes healing. The skin cells removed during the biopsy will be sent to a lab where they’ll be examined microscopically to look for any irregularities at the cellular level to make the diagnosis.

Depending on how busy the lab is and how complicated the case is, the results of the biopsy are typically delivered in 1-2 weeks. Once results are received, you’ll be contacted and may need to schedule a follow-up visit with your dermatologist to go over treatment recommendations and other details related to your case.

Managing Discomfort and Aftercare

Following treatment, most patients notice few, if any, adverse effects. There is often some minor pain or discomfort. There may be bruising and inflammation at the surgical site, as well as bleeding that should stop within 24 hours of your procedure. You will need to keep the surgical site clean and moist. Your dermatologist will bandage the site before you leave, which may include a compression wrap to minimize bruising and oozing. Follow all instructions for replacing the bandage precisely. To manage discomfort, you should be able to use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen. Your dermatologist can offer specific advice based on your specific procedure and health history. Any symptoms that worsen or last longer than a week should be brought to the attention of your dermatology team.

Addressing Patient Concerns: Frequently Asked Questions

Please review the answers below to some of the questions we hear most often from our patients during skin biopsy consultation appointments, but don’t hesitate to reach out to our trusted team if you have additional questions.

Q. Does a skin biopsy hurt?

  1. We do our utmost to ensure any discomfort during treatment is minimized. We give local anesthetic before performing the procedure, so you should experience very little pain. Following the procedure, you may experience some discomfort. However, we will provide aftercare instructions to help you minimize any discomfort.

Q. Will a skin biopsy leave a scar?

  1. Almost all surgical procedures run a risk for scar tissue development, but we do our utmost to minimize scarring. Your dermatologist will walk through the process with you before beginning treatment and let you know what to expect during skin biopsy healing, including the likelihood that scars will form.

Q. What do my results mean?

  1. The main question being asked in performing a skin biopsy is simple – is it skin cancer?

If there are no cancerous cells or skin diseases present in the sample, you will likely see normal or benign as a result. If your biopsy contains irregularities, then the result will state that it is abnormal, but in some cases, additional testing is required before a specific diagnosis can be made. Any abnormal results will be reviewed and followed up with you so that you will have adequate information to plan for the necessary treatment.

Schedule a Consultation Visit

When you’re ready to learn more about skin biopsy or any other dermatologic treatments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at U.S. Dermatology Partners. We look forward to supporting your skin health needs. We make it quick and easy to get started working with one of our trusted local dermatologists. Simply take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request. Once we receive your request, a member of our team will be in touch to finalize the details of your visit.

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