Skin Biopsy

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What is a skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy is the removal of a piece of skin for the purpose of further examination in the laboratory using a microscope. Skin biopsies are performed to diagnose a number of conditions.

Why is a skin biopsy performed?

Skin biopsy is most frequently done to diagnose a skin growth such as a mole, or a skin condition such as a rash. A skin biopsy can also be used to diagnose a cancer of the skin. A skin biopsy may be indicated when a mole or other marking on the skin has changed in its shape, color, or size. A skin biopsy is also sometimes used to diagnose infections of the skin.

What methods are used to obtain a skin biopsy?

Different techniques are used in different situations. Typically the biopsies are obtained after using local anesthetics to numb the area to be biopsied.

  • A shave biopsy takes a thin slice off the top of the skin and can be used to remove superficial abnormal areas (lesions).
  • A punch biopsy takes a core (a small cylindrical fragment of tissue from the area of interest) and can be used to diagnose rashes and other conditions.
  • Excisional biopsies are usually larger and deeper and are used to completely remove an abnormal area of skin such as a skin cancer. These are not technically biopsies since the goal of this procedure is to remove the whole lesion rather than to remove a small portion to make a diagnosis.

What happens to the skin sample after the biopsy is removed?

After the biopsy, the skin sample is fixed in special solution, and thin sections of the tissue are cut and placed on microscope slides. The slides are stained for examination by a doctor (usually a dermatologist or pathologist). Sometimes specialized stains are used to examine for antibodies, immune proteins, and other markers of certain diseases. Initial routine biopsy results can be obtained in 48 hours or less, while specialized staining techniques can require a much longer time until final results are available.

Normal Skin Illustration - Skin Biopsy
Normal Skin Illustration - Skin Biopsy

Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD American Board of Dermatology Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCE:

"Skin biopsy techniques"
uptodate.com


Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2014

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Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Biopsy

A biopsy is a sample of tissue removed by your doctor to make a precise diagnosis. Biopsy procedures can range from a simple sampling of skin under local anesthesia to surgical opening of the chest wall to remove a portion of lung tissue. Biopsies may also be obtained during diagnostic procedures such as endoscopy, colonoscopy, bronchoscopy, and others. Sometimes doctors perform biopsies using a CAT scanor other radiological imaging techniques to help identify the exact area to be sampled and avoid injury to surrounding organs. There are several types of biopsies.

Excisional biopsy. If your doctor finds an area of interest or a suspicious finding (for example, an enlarged nevus, or mole), often an excisional biopsy is performed to remove the area in question in its entirety during the biopsy.

Incisional biopsy. An incisional biopsy refers to removal of only a portion of the area of interest (for example, sampling of a small fragment of tissue from a larger breast lump).

Fine needle biopsy. A fine needle biopsy is used to remove cells or fluid by suctioning through a long, thin needle.

Core needle biopsy. During a core needle biopsy, the doctor inserts a special needle through a skin incision that removes a very thin, cylindrical piece of tissue.

The following questions can help guide your discussions with your doctor concerning a biopsy (print these and take them with you to your doctor's visit).