What you can expect
Depending on the location of the skin biopsy, you may be asked to undress and change into a clean gown. A doctor or nurse then cleans the area of the skin to be biopsied. Your skin may be marked to outline the biopsy area.
You then receive a medication (local anesthetic) to numb the biopsy site. This is usually given by injection with a thin needle. The numbing medication can cause a burning sensation in the skin for a few seconds. Afterward, you shouldn't feel any pain or discomfort during the skin biopsy. To make sure the anesthetic is working before the procedure begins, the doctor or nurse will prick your skin with a needle and ask you if you feel any sensation.
A skin biopsy typically takes about 15 minutes total, including the preparation time, dressing the wound and instructions for at-home care.
During the skin biopsy
What you can expect during your skin biopsy depends on the type of biopsy you'll undergo.
- For a shave biopsy, your doctor uses a sharp tool, a double-edged razor or a scalpel to cut the tissue. The depth of the cut varies. A shave biopsy causes bleeding. Pressure and a topical medication might be applied to stop bleeding.
- For a punch biopsy or an excisional biopsy, your doctor cuts into the top layer of fat beneath the skin. Stitches may be needed to close the wound. A bandage is then placed over the wound to protect it and prevent bleeding.
After the skin biopsy
Your doctor may instruct you to keep the bandage over the biopsy site until the next day. Occasionally, the biopsy site bleeds after you leave the doctor's office. This is more likely in people taking blood-thinning medications. If this occurs, apply direct pressure to the wound for 20 minutes, then look at it. If bleeding continues, apply pressure for another 20 minutes. If bleeding still continues after that, contact your doctor.
All biopsies cause a small scar. Some people develop a prominent, raised scar (keloid). The risk of this is increased when a biopsy is done on the neck or upper torso, such as the back or chest. Scars fade gradually. The scar's permanent color will be evident one or two years after the biopsy.
Avoid bumping the area or doing activities that stretch the skin. Stretching the skin could cause the wound to bleed or enlarge the scar. Don't soak in a bathtub, swimming pool or hot tub until your doctor says it's OK — usually about seven days after the procedure.
Healing of the wound can take several weeks, but is usually complete within two months. Wounds on the legs and feet tend to heal slower than those on other areas of the body.
Clean the biopsy site two times a day unless it's on your scalp — then clean it once a day. Follow these steps:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before touching the biopsy site.
- Wash the biopsy site with soap and water. If the biopsy site is on your scalp, use shampoo.
- Rinse the site well.
- Pat the site dry with a clean towel.
- After the area is dry, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Use a new container of petroleum jelly the first time you do wound care. Use a new cotton swab each time you apply the petroleum jelly.
- Cover the site with an adhesive bandage (Band-Aid, Curad) for the first two or three days after the procedure.
Continue wound care until the stitches are removed or, if you don't have stitches, until the skin is healed.
If your wound is sore, ask your doctor if you can apply ice wrapped in a thin towel.