A skin cancer biopsy is one-part diagnosis, one-part treatment. Discovering a suspicious spot on the skin never feels good, but we want to make the exam, diagnosis and treatment experience as easy as possible. Biopsies are not always necessary, but you can’t know until a doctor takes a look. This skin cancer test and treatment removes as much of the growth as possible, then sends it to a laboratory for further examination. If the doctor thinks there’s any chance the growth is cancerous, it’s best to place it safe.
If you’re worried a skin spot is starting to look like skin cancer symptoms, you can get a biopsy by scheduling a skin cancer screening with our Chesterfield dermatology clinic.
What to Expect During a Skin Cancer Biopsy
The skin cancer biopsy can be done at the doctor’s office with the use of a simple local anesthetic. The doctor or nurse will clean the skin and, in some cases, use a pen to mark the area that will be removed. The skin will then be numbed, and the doctor will employ one of several biopsy methods to remove as much of the growth as possible. The skin biopsy will rarely take more than 20 minutes to complete, regardless of the biopsy method. Once the doctor seals and covers the wound, you can leave. Patients should expect a light scar to form over the wound, but this should gradually fade. Once the laboratory results are in, you will receive a call with information about the biopsied skin and potential further treatment.
Skin Cancer Biopsy Methods
There are several biopsy methods that a doctor can use to diagnose skin cancer. Below are some of the most used.
- Shave Biopsy – This type of biopsy is typically used to remove lesions that are very shallow, which typically includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Once the skin has been cleaned and numbed, the doctor will use a blade – a razor, scalpel, or other surgical tool – to shave away thin layers of skin. This type of biopsy will not require stitches.
- Punch Biopsy – A punch biopsy requires the doctor to use a circular blade, which looks like a cookie cutter, to remove a round piece of skin. This type of biopsy is deeper than a shave biopsy because the blade is pushed down into the lesion and rotated (rather than being scraped across the skin). A punch biopsy will require between one to three stitches.
- Incisional Biopsy – This type of biopsy requires a surgical knife to remove a tumor embedded deeper in the skin. Only the abnormal area of skin is removed, and it is typically stitched closed.
- Excisional Biopsy – Similar to an incisional biopsy, an excisional biopsy utilizes a surgical knife to remove a deeper-set tumor. However, this type of biopsy removes the whole area of abnormal skin, plus some of the healthy tissue around. This will help the doctor better understand a cancer’s potential spread. Doctors generally use this to diagnose melanoma.
How to Prepare for a Skin Cancer Biopsy
In many cases, patients enter the exam room without knowing they will need a mole biopsied. Especially if you’re making the appointment because you’ve found a troublesome skin growth, then you should be prepared for this possibility. Again, the biopsy itself will take only a few minutes. Once the lesion is biopsied, you will be free to leave the office. Your doctor will give you a call with the results once they are in. For many people, waiting to hear the results of the biopsy can be the most stressful part of the experience. Our office will let you know how and when to expect the results.
Remember, too, that for many basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, a biopsy may be enough to remove the full tumor and eliminate the cancer. Even a melanoma diagnosis is far from a death sentence. The five-year survival rate for early stage melanoma is 98 percent. Even if the cancer has reached the lymph nodes, the survival rate is 64 percent so long as the cancer hasn’t metastasized.
For more advanced and aggressive cancers, you may need follow-up skin cancer treatment to ensure the cancer does not spread. Your doctor will walk you through the diagnosis and options that best suit your cancer. Medical surprises never feel good, but knowing what to expect can help a lot.
Scheduling Your Skin Cancer Biopsy
It’s easy to make an appointment with our Chesterfield office. If there is a mole you are particularly worried about, you can make a note of it while scheduling the appointment. Even if a surprise is discovered during a routine skin exam, we can still perform a biopsy during the same appointment in most cases.