When you visit a skin cancer clinic to have your skin checked, it may be necessary for your doctor to remove a sample of skin in order to diagnose or rule out certain skin conditions; this procedure is known as a skin biopsy. A skin biopsy is a technique in which a specimen of skin tissue, known as a lesion, is removed, processed and studied under a microscope to examine the colour, shape, size or appearance of the skin.

There are different biopsy methods used by doctors depending on the size and area of the affected skin. Some types of skin biopsies that might be used to diagnose skin cancer include the following:

Shave biopsy. After a local anesthetic is given, the doctor uses a surgical blade to shave off part of the lesion. Stitches are generally not required for this procedure, as bleeding can usually be controlled by applying a solution onto the wound. The biopsy site is then secured with cotton gauze or a sterile dressing.

Punch biopsy. After a local anesthetic is given, a device that resembles a sharp cookie cutter is put over the lesion, pushed down and gradually turned to remove a small round cylinder of skin. The lesion is lifted up with forceps or a needle and cut from the tissue beneath. In the event that a substantial piece of skin is taken, stitches may be needed to close the incision.

Excision Biopsy. After a local anesthetic is given, the entire area of suspect skin is removed. An excision biopsy is normally done with a scalpel and once the lesion has been lifted out and removed, stitches are used to close the wound.

After the biopsy has been completed, the skin sample is sent to a skin cancer pathologist for examination. A pathologist is a doctor who specialises in interpreting and evaluating cells, tissues and organs to diagnose disease. The pathologist will examine the skin sample using a microscope and will be able to diagnose whether a skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma is present.

For more information about skin cancer, SunDoctors Skin Clinics or to make an appointment for your skin check, head online to https://sundoctors.com.au/. Alternatively call SunDoctors on 13SKIN (137546) to make an appointment to have your skin checked.