What is a skin biopsy?
A skin biopsy is a procedure healthcare providers use to diagnose skin conditions. It can help identify a rash, infection, psoriasis or skin cancer.
During a biopsy, your provider removes a small sample of skin tissue. In the lab, experts analyze the sample under a microscope.
What are the different types of skin biopsy?
There are three types of skin biopsies. Your provider will decide which method to use depending on the size and location of your skin lesion (an abnormal growth or area of skin).
Your provider might use:
- Punch biopsy: An instrument called a biopsy punch removes a small, circular sample of skin.
- Shave biopsy: Your provider uses a razor blade to shave off a thin layer of skin.
- Excisional biopsy: Your provider uses a scalpel to remove a sample of skin.
When do you need a skin biopsy?
Your healthcare provider may recommend a skin biopsy if you have a new or changing mole, a rash, an area of scaly or rough skin or an open sore that won’t go away. A skin biopsy can help diagnose:
What happens before a skin biopsy?
A skin biopsy is a quick, in-office procedure. Your provider uses alcohol or other disinfectant to clean the area being biopsied. Then they inject a local anesthetic into the area to make it numb, so you won’t feel anything during the procedure.
What happens during a skin biopsy?
Once your skin feels numb, your provider uses a biopsy punch, razor or scalpel to carefully remove a small sample of skin.
Shave biopsies remove only a superficial layer of skin. You may have some bleeding, but stitches aren’t necessary. If you have a punch or excisional biopsy, your doctor may use a couple of stitches to seal up the wound.
In most cases, the whole procedure only takes about 15 minutes.
What happens after a skin biopsy?
Your provider bandages the area and gives you instructions on how to care for the wound. You’ll need to keep the area clean and covered until the biopsy heals. If you had stitches, they may dissolve, or your provider may remove them after a few days.
Your provider will let you know when you should expect test results and if you need to schedule a follow-up appointment.
What are the risks of a skin biopsy?
Skin biopsy is a very safe procedure, but there is a slight risk of:
Results and Follow-Up
When should I know the results of the skin biopsy?
Ask your healthcare team when you can expect the biopsy results. If the results show that you have basal or squamous cell skin cancer, your healthcare provider will review your options to make sure that the entire cancerous lesion is removed.
If the results show melanoma (a more invasive type of skin cancer), your provider will discuss next steps. You may need more tests to find out if the melanoma has spread. Your provider may recommend additional surgery or other treatment.
When should I call my healthcare team?
Call your healthcare team if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Bleeding that doesn’t stop within a few hours of the biopsy or with direct pressure on the site.
- Signs of infection at the biopsy site.
- Swelling at the biopsy site.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A skin biopsy is a quick procedure performed in your doctor’s office. Your provider takes a biopsy to remove a small sample of skin tissue for analysis. The results of a skin biopsy can help determine the cause of a skin rash or irritation. They can also confirm or rule out skin cancer. Once your provider has the results of your biopsy, they can decide on next steps for treating your skin condition.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy