Skin biopsy

If it’s difficult to tell the difference between a skin cancer and a non-cancerous skin spot, the doctor may need to take a tissue sample (biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis.

A biopsy is a quick and simple procedure that is usually performed in the doctor’s office. You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area, and the doctor will take a small piece of tissue from the spot. In some cases, the spot is cut out completely in a procedure called an excision and stitches are used to close the wound and help it heal.

The tissue that is removed will be sent to a laboratory, where a pathologist will examine it under a microscope. The results will be available in about a week.

If all the cancer is removed during the biopsy, this will probably be the only treatment you need.

Can smartphone apps help detect skin cancer?
A number of smartphone apps allow you to photograph your skin at regular intervals and compare photos to check for changes. While these apps may be a way to keep a record of any spot you are worried about or remind you to check your skin, research shows they cannot reliably detect skin cancer and should not replace a visit to the doctor. If you notice a spot that causes you concern, make an appointment with your GP or dermatologist straightaway.

This information was last reviewed in January 2018
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