What biopsy methods are used for skin cancer?

Dr. Doris Day, MD
A skin biopsy is a quick and relatively painless procedure. Here’s what it entails:  

• In the office the procedure is first explained as to what and why it is being done. An informed consent is usually signed

• Next the area to be biopsied is cleaned with an alcohol wipe and Betadine.

• The biopsy site is then anesthetized using Lidocaine with or without epinephrine, depending on the site. This is the only part of the procedure that has potential to be painful. By painful I mean a pinch and a sting that lasts for about three seconds. After this, there is no pain at all.

• The site is now ready for the biopsy. The doctor uses a scalpel, which is a sharp blade, to remove the lesion either in part or in its entirety and places the specimen in a bottle of formalin. Stitches are not usually used for these procedures.

• After this, antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid are applied and you are ready to go back to your regular activities, unless otherwise instructed.
• At home, you will apply an antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin or Neosporin, or you may be instructed to use a bland ointment such as petrolatum jelly and change the band-aid daily for about one week. It is a good idea to keep the site covered for the first few days after the procedure for better healing. Crusting of the site will slow the healing process.

• The specimen is sent to the lab where it is processed, stained, and then examined under a microscope by a dermatopathologist (a pathologist that only looks at specimens from the skin).

• A report is sent back to the dermatologist over the next few days to a week with the results of the exam.

• Sometimes more than one biopsy needs to be done to make a definitive diagnosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.