A skin biopsy is a procedure that is performed in the consulting rooms. A sample of the skin, or a skin lesion, is removed. The sample is sent to a pathologist lab where it is examined. Thanks to this procedure, dermatologists are able to diagnose their patients’ symptoms with incontrovertible certainty and improve the outlook of many conditions. This is because an early and accurate diagnosis makes treatment more effective before the condition further deteriorates.
What is a skin biopsy for?
A skin biopsy will help to identify conditions and diagnose them accurately. The results of the biopsy are determined by pathologists, and the results may take 4 – 10 days to reach your doctor. Some of the conditions we diagnose with a skin biopsy include:
- Suspicious and precancerous lesions
- Skin infections
- Benign skin growths
- Suspicious moles or other growths
- Hair-loss and Inflammatory conditions of the scalp
- Dermatitis, psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions
- Bullous pemphigoid and other blistering skin disorders
- Skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
The skin biopsy procedure
Naturally, knowing a sample of your skin will be removed might make you feel nervous. Rest assured, the procedure is harmless and fairly painless.
- Step 1: Dr. Khoza will clean the area of skin that will have a biopsy to ensure everything is sterile.
- Step 2: The local anaesthetic is applied. This ensures you are comfortable throughout the procedure. The anaesthetic is usually applied by injection.
- Step 3: The sample of skin is then removed using one of the methods listed below, depending on your condition. Some procedures may require you to have a stitch or two afterwards, while others do not.
The different types of skin biopsies:
This biopsy is used to sample skin lesions that protrude from the epidermis (outer layer of the skin), like warts, skin tags, moles, and basal and squamous carcinomas (to name a few). The sample is removed by shaving off the top layer of skin.
Using a device that looks similar to a pen, Dr. Khoza will take the sample once the skin is properly anaesthetised. She will first stretch the skin with her one hand before twisting the punch in circular motions into the skin. The punch will cut a skin sample through each layer. The sample is removed with scissors.
The entire mass or lesion is removed to be tested. In some cases, if the area is large, you may go under a general anaesthetic and a few stitches may be required. It depends on the area of skin and the size of the area in question.
A piece of a mass or lesion is removed to be tested. The decision to do an incisional versus and excisional biopsy depends on the conditions – Dr. Khoza will decide which will give you the best possible outcome.
- After the procedure, Dr. Khoza will bandage the area, you may need to keep it bandaged overnight. Occasionally the site may bleed, especially if you take blood-thinning medication. In this case, add pressure to the wound.
- Avoid stretching the skin in that area while it heals.
- Always clean the area after you have first cleaned your hands. Use a quality disinfectant to wash your hands. Clean the biopsy site with soap and water and pat dry gently.
- Continue caring for the biopsy site until the stitches are out, or until the skin has healed completely.
The risks associated with a skin biopsy
There is a small chance of infection. If you follow the proper care instructions, your biopsy site should heal well.
There is a chance of bleeding. If you take blood-thinning medications please discuss this with Dr Khoza so that the best approach can be planned.
Discuss any other medications you are taking. Also discuss any allergies you may have, especially if you are sensitive to pain medications.
There will be a small scar after your biopsy.
The value of a biopsy in dermatology and health
A biopsy is a wonderful tool to ensure we give you a confirmed diagnosis. It empowers us to use the most effective approach in treating your condition, minimising your discomfort and getting the best possible prognosis. For more information, please feel free tocontact us.