Skin biopsy procedures

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Skin biopsy procedures

We discuss different skin biopsy procedures, including punch biopsy & curette biopsy

What is a skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of skin, and sometimes the underlying tissue, is taken to be sent to a laboratory for testing. This is either because the diagnosis is unknown, or to help confirm clinical suspicions

Why is a biopsy done?

A skin biopsy is often used to help diagnose skin growths, but can also be used for other skin complaints such as rashes

What types of skin biopsy procedure are there?

There are different names given to biopsy procedures, often depending on how they have been performed. If a scalpel is used, it is usually called ‘incision biopsy’; if a curette is used, it’s a ‘curette biopsy’ (an instrument shaped like a small spoon is used to gently scrape away a skin sample). Sometimes a ‘punch biopsy’ is performed, which uses a small instrument with a round cutting area to take a small disc of skin off.

Generally, biopsies can be performed in different ways, but the end purpose of the procedure is the same, ie to take a skin sample for testing

How is a skin biopsy performed?

Skin biopsies are usually performed under local anaesthetic (ie with you awake). Once the anaesthetic has made the skin numb, the piece of skin (sometimes more than one piece) is taken. Any bleeding areas are stopped and the wound dressed. Occasionally a stitch might be needed for the biopsy wound, which is usually taken out after a few days unless dissolving stitches are used

How long will it take to get my skin biopsy results?

This depends on a number of factors including how fast the particular laboratory can process the specimen, and what the biopsy is trying to check for. Sometimes the biopsy can be processed fairly quickly, but some skin growths or conditions may need special lab stains to be used, which can take much longer to process. Very occasionally, the pathologist may want to get second opinions on a biopsy, which again can add a little time to getting the results back

What are the risks of having a skin biopsy?

The main risks of a biopsy include:

Scarring – the scars from a skin biopsy are usually small. Scars tend to start off being dark pink, then fade over a few months. Rarely, hypertrophic or keloid scars can develop after a skin procedure, whereby the scars become raised and itchy. These scars can be treated but this can be difficult

Pain – the biopsy area can feel a little sore after the procedure, but it’s usually not too painful

Bruising – a skin biopsy doesn’t usually cause much of a bruise, but some areas are more prone to bruising than others (such as around the eyelid)

Swelling – again, swelling is fairly uncommon after a skin biopsy, but areas such as the eyelid are more prone to this

This information is for general information only. If you have any concerns about your health or are considering any procedures or treatments, you should seek advice from a healthcare specialist

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