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A biopsy is a procedure performed by a physician or surgeon. Your physician will remove a sample of tissue for examination to determine if the tissue cells are benign (normal), atypical (abnormal), or cancerous. The specimen is often sent to a lab and examined by a pathologist under a microscope. Most biopsies are done under local anesthetic or without any numbing medicine, in the physician's office at the time of the examination.

Skin Biopsy Types

Skin Biopsies include:

  • Shave Biopsy: A “shave” of a thin layer from the top of the suspicious lesion is removed.
  • Punch Biopsy: Using a “punch” instrument, a circular section through all layers of skin is removed.
  • Incisional Biopsy: Using a scalpel, the physician removes a small sample of the lesion.
  • Excisional Biopsy: Using a scalpel, the physician removes the entire suspicious lesion.
  • Curettage Biopsy: Using a curette blade, the physician removes the surface of the suspicious lesion.
  • Fine Needle Aspiration: Used for tumors or lymph nodes deep under the skin, the physician uses a needle to remove cells which are then prepared and examined under a microscope.
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: A surgical procedure used to help determine the stage of certain types of cancer or the extent of metastases (spread).

What to Expect From Your Biopsy

Most skin biopsies are done in the physician’s office. If necessary, numbing medicine may be used to reduce feelings of pain during the procedure. If the tissue is not easy to obtain, another appointment will be scheduled. After the biopsy, you may experience soreness or tenderness at the site of the biopsy for a few days. Results are typically available 3-10 days following the biopsy. Once a diagnosis is made, your physician will recommend an appropriate treatment plan.