• Skin Biopsy

    (Skin Lesion Biopsy; Shave Biopsy; Punch Biopsy; Excision Biopsy)


    A skin biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of abnormal skin is removed for testing. There are 3 main types of skin biopsies:
    • Shave biopsy—outer part of affected area is removed
    • Punch biopsy—a small cylinder of skin is removed using a punch tool
    • Excisional biopsy—an entire area of abnormal skin is removed
    Punch Biopsy
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Reasons for Procedure

    A skin biopsy is used to test an area of abnormal skin. If possible, the entire area will be removed during the biopsy. A skin biopsy may be done to diagnose:
    • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
    • Inflammatory skin disorders, such as psoriasis
    • Skin cancer or benign skin growths
    Skin biopsy may also be done to:
    • Make sure a tumor was completely removed—by testing remaining skin
    • Monitor the effect of a treatment

    Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Poor wound healing
    • Scarring
    • Nerve damage
    Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
    • Smoking
    • Suppressed immune system
    • Bleeding disorders
    • Circulatory problems

    What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure

    No special preparation is needed for this procedure.


    Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being treated.

    Description of the Procedure

    The involved area will be prepared. The skin will be cleaned. Medication will be applied to the skin or injected to numb the area. The exact steps will depend on the type of biopsy:
    • Shave biopsy—A thin slice of the skin will be removed. It is done with a special razor that shaves off a piece of skin.
    • Punch biopsy—A special tool is used. The tip of the tool is pushed into your skin. As it is pushed down, the tool will be rotated into the skin. A circular sample of skin will then be cut free. This biopsy provides a sample from all of the layers of the skin. Stitches may be needed to close the hole.
    • Excision biopsy—The entire area of abnormal skin will be removed with a scalpel. This biopsy will make a larger and deeper hole in the skin. Stitches will be placed to close the hole left in the skin.
    After the procedure, a clean dressing will be placed over the area.

    How Long Will It Take?

    5-20 minutes

    Will It Hurt?

    There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medication may be advised to reduce discomfort. .

    Post-procedure Care

    Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. Keep it covered with a sterile bandage for 1-2 days. Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days, depending on where they are located. The area will need to be cleaned to prevent infection. Do not get the area wet unless the doctor says it is okay to do so.

    Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact the doctor if any of the following occur:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
    • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
    • New or unexpected symptoms
    If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


    American Society for Dermatologic Surgery http://www.asds.net

    National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov


    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca

    Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca


    Pickett H. Shave and punch biopsy for skin lesions. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(9):995-1002.

    Skin biopsy. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/skin-biopsy.html. Updated July 2012. Accessed February 25, 2015.

    Skin biopsy. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/procedures/biopsy.html. Updated December 13, 2014. Accessed February 25, 2015.

    6/3/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James Cornell, MD
    • Review Date: 03/2017
    • Update Date: 06/24/2013
  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.