If you notice a lesion on your skin, such as a growth or a raised or discolored area, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment for a dermatological exam. After performing a visual examination, the doctor may want to schedule a skin biopsy to collect a sample of tissue for further investigation. This procedure provides a method to diagnose some kinds of skin conditions by looking at a section of the lesion under a microscope.

Types of Biopsy Procedures  

An excisional biopsy removes the entire visible portion of a skin lesion. Using a scalpel or other blade, the doctor cuts away the lesion, often cutting into the underlying fatty tissue. This technique may be used if the lesion looks like a type of skin cancer called melanoma, or if the lesion is very small.

Incisional biopsies remove only a part of the lesion. A portion may be shaved off with a blade, clipped with sharp scissors, or punched out with a cylindrical cutting tool. Another incisional technique called a wedge biopsy removes a curved section of tissue that includes a cross-section of the lesion as well as a section of normal skin.

Recovery From a Skin Biopsy

The site of the biopsy will heal more quickly if the area remains covered and moistened with ointment. Allowing the wound to dry out and scab will delay healing and can lead to scarring. Some redness at the site is normal. Pus or redness that spreads indicates an infection that needs treatment.

Bleeding, bruising, and/or tenderness may occur following the biopsy. These symptoms should subside within a few days. Persistent or worsening pain, discoloration, or bleeding warrants a call to the doctor to address possible complications. 

Pathology Testing

Skin and tissue samples taken during the biopsy are prepared for examination in a pathology laboratory. Technicians embed the samples in wax, then slice thin sections which are mounted on slides and stained to make the microscopic structures more visible. The stains used are specific to the type of cell that the pathologist wants to examine.

Results of Skin Pathology 

A normal biopsy outcome means that no skin disease or cancer cells were detected in the tissue sample. Abnormal results indicate the presence of a skin condition, a bacterial or fungal infection, or skin cancer. If the biopsy detects cancer cells, the report indicates which type of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma.

Speak to a service provider to learn more about skin pathology