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Biopsy for skin cancer

What is a biopsy?

During a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body. A pathologist inspects the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. If the cells are found to be cancerous, a biopsy can help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy, or if it started somewhere else in the body and spread to the biopsy site.

Some biopsies are performed under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This allows your doctor to collect cells from deeper inside the body. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you will receive an anesthetic to minimize any pain.

Compared with other diagnostic tests for cancer, biopsies often provide a more definitive diagnosis. A biopsy can help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy sample, or if it started somewhere else in the body and spread to the site of the biopsy sample.

Some sites that are commonly biopsied include the breast, skin, bone marrow, GI tract, lung, liver, bladder, colon and lymph nodes. Our doctors determine the most appropriate method of biopsy based on several factors, such as the size, shape, location, and characteristics of the abnormality.

Biopsy medical animation

Video: Biopsy II Medical Animation

Medical animation

Biopsy for skin cancer

In many cases, your doctor will remove the whole growth. During this procedure, your doctor will numb the area before removing a tissue sample.

There are several different biopsy methods, but an excisional biopsy in which the doctor removes the entire growth is often sufficient to treat the skin cancer.

Other types of biopsies include a shave biopsy, in which your doctor shaves off the top layers of the lesion, and a punch biopsy, in which the doctor uses a special tool to cut a tiny round piece of the tumor, including deeper layers of the skin.

Your doctor may also take a biopsy of any suspicious lymph nodes to see if they contain cancer cells.

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