Published: May 16, 2007
Updated: Aug. 22, 2011
What is a skin biopsy?
A skin biopsy is a procedure done to take a tissue sample from the skin to look at under the microscope.
There are several types of skin biopsies:
Why is it ordered?
A skin biopsy is done when there is a skin problem. It is done most often to diagnose skin cancer. It can also be done to diagnose many other conditions, including other cancers, bacterial or fungal infections, lupus, and other less common conditions.
What should my health care professional know before I have this test done?
Where is this done?
Many skin biopsies can be done in your hospital room or in the clinic exam room. Excisional biopsies may be performed in the ambulatory surgery center.
Do I need to do anything to get ready for this test?
You usually do not need to do anything to get ready for a skin biopsy.
What happens during the procedure?
Is this test painful?
A skin biopsy is usually about as painful as having blood drawn from your arm.
How long does it take?
The entire procedure, including cleaning and numbing, takes only a few minutes. The biopsy itself usually takes less than a minute, depending on the type of biopsy.
What happens after the procedure?
A dressing is placed over the area. You will receive instructions on caring for the biopsy site, depending on the type of biopsy. You may be advised to wash the site, apply antibacterial ointment, and change the bandage.
What are the risks with this procedure?
As with any procedure, there are small risks of bleeding and infection. These may be increased at times when you are more susceptible to bleeding or infection due to your disease or treatment. Precautions are taken to protect you from those risks as much as possible.
How will I get the results?
It will take several days for your doctor to get the skin biopsy results. Talk with your doctor about how you will get the results.
This article is intended as a resource for patients receiving their cancer care at Duke University Hospital or Duke Clinic. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice from your health care team. If your doctor’s instructions differ from the information in this article, please talk with your doctor before making any changes.
Source: Duke Cancer Patient Education Program; approved: Duke PEC, 12/03