A skin biopsy is the removal of a sample of skin to assist with making a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy helps to identify processes in the skin that are invisible to the naked eye.
Choosing the method and site of the biopsy is crucial and will assist with a more accurate diagnosis. The dermatologist further assist the pathologist by providing them with clinical information, photos and a list of possible diagnosis. In some cases, more than one biopsy is performed.
A local anaesthetic is injected into the skin to numb the area that will sting for a few seconds. After the procedure, a suture or dressing may be applied to the site of the biopsy.
Types of skin biopsy
- Punch biopsy – a punch with a round stainless steel blade is used
- Shave biopsy - a blade is used and the wound forms a scab that heal
- Curettage - a curette is used to scrape off a superficial skin lesion
- Incisional biopsy – use a scalpel blade to remove a deep ellipse of skin
- Excision biopsy – complete removal of a skin lesion with any method
Complications of skin biopsy (uncommon)
- Bleeding – especially if taking warfarin or aspirin.
- Scarring – common on central chest
- Biopsies are intended to diagnose and therefore excision biopsies may not remove the full lesion
It usually takes less than one week to obtain the result depending if special stains or second opinions are required.
Skin diseases can at times be very difficult to diagnose accurately. In those cases the clinical and biopsy findings combined form a more complete picture to make a correct diagnosis. In special cases, this information will also be reviewed by a team of experts from Tygerberg Hospital to determine the best diagnosis and treatment for the patient.