After your initial consultation, if your specialist thinks that a mole, lump or other problem area of skin may be cancerous, they will undertake a skin biopsy to investigate further.
What is a skin biopsy?
A biopsy involves removing some of the skin cells for examination under a microscope. The removal of the skin is performed under local anaesthetic and usually only takes a few minutes. The skin sample is then examined under the microscope to check for the presence of cancer cells, and if they are present, what type of skin cancer has developed.
Having a skin biopsy does not automatically mean you have skin cancer, as skin biopsies are often taken as a precaution to rule out cancer. Your result may come back clear and the cause of your skin problem will be investigated further.
Why have a skin biopsy?
Skin cancer is best identified as early as possible, before it spreads into the lymphatic system and/or other organs of the body. Having a skin biopsy allows your dermatologist to determine the type of skin cancer you have and the likelihood of the cancer spreading.
Skin biopsies can also be used following cancer surgery or other treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, to determine whether the cancer has been fully removed or cured, or whether further treatment is required.
Skin biopsies are done under local anaesthetic and will sometimes leave a small scar. Punch and incision/excision biopsies will usually need stitches to help them heal. In some cases, especially with excision biopsies, the test doubles as the treatment, as the whole of the tumour is removed leaving a healthy margin of cancer free cells.
Types of skin biopsy
At The Devonshire Clinic we offer several different types of skin biopsy, and the type that is used will depend on the type and depth of the suspected cancer.
The four main skin biopsy techniques are:
- Shave biopsy. This is a limited technique that shaves a shallow sample of the epidermis and the upper dermis. It is only used when there is a low risk of melanoma, or in cases where the cancer is not thought to have penetrated too deeply into the skin cells. Shave biopsies leave a surface wound that will often heal without scarring.
- Punch biopsy. A small, round punch tool is used to cut a cylindrical sample of the skin including the epidermis, dermis and upper subcutis (the layer of connective tissue just beneath the dermis). A punch biopsy will often require stitching to help it heal and may leave a small scar.
- Incision biopsy. This involves the surgical removal of a sample of the suspected cancer using a scalpel. The incision will usually require stitching to help it to heal.
- Excision biopsy. Similar to an incision biopsy, except that in this case, the surgeon aims to remove the whole of the suspected tumour rather than just taking a sample. Not only will the cancer itself be analysed under a microscope, but the edges of the sample will also be checked to ensure that a healthy margin of cancer free cells has been left at the excision site. While excision biopsies will usually leave a larger scar, they do have the benefit of being both test and treatment in one procedure.
The results of a skin biopsy
You will usually get the results of your skin biopsy quickly. Our dermatologists will explain whether or not the problem was cancerous, what type of cancer is present, and what treatment, if any, is required.
Skin Cancer Treatments
Why use the Devonshire Clinic?
Our Dermatology Specialists
Our team of skin specialists at our dermatology clinic in London have many years of experience in treating patients with skin conditions. We understand your issues and aim to tailor our service so that you feel comfortable and reassured. Learn more about our dermatology consultants below.
Dr Conal Perrett
& Dermatological Surgeon
Dr Conal Perrett is a leading Consultant Dermatologist & Dermatologic Surgeon practising at The Devonshire Clinic. Dr Perrett has expertise in general Dermatology and a specialist interest in skin cancer and skin surgery, utilising the most advanced high-tech equipment and techniques, including Photodynamic therapy (PDT), lasers and Mohs micrographic surgery.
Dr Jane McGregor
For over 30 years, Dr Jane McGregor has provided expert dermatological care to patients. She has expertise in photobiology, skin cancer, sun allergy and dermatology. Dr Jane McGregor is an internationally recognised specialist in her field of skin cancer and skin disease for organ transplant recipients.
Dr Ian Logan
Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological Surgeon
Dr Ian Logan specialises in skin lesion diagnosis and removal, skin cancer, skin surgery, Mohs micrographic surgery and general dermatology. Dr Ian Logan has received higher specialist training after completing a fellowship in Mohs Surgery and Advanced Dermatological Surgery at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Dr Elizabeth Kulakov
Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological Surgeon
Dr Elizabeth Kulakov is the Skin Cancer Lead at University College London Hospital NHS Trust. Dr Elizabeth Kulakov specialises in skin cancer, skin surgery, Mohs micrographic surgery and general dermatology.
Dr Rachel Sidwell
Dr Rachel Sidwell is a highly experienced Consultant Dermatologist. Whilst she consults on all skin issues including skin cancers and general Dermatology, she has special expertise in paediatric dermatology.
Consultant Head and Neck/Reconstruction and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
Shahme Farook is a Consultant Head and Neck/Reconstruction and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at Northwick Park Hospital.
Dr Daniel O’Driscoll
Dr Daniel O’Driscoll is a consultant dermatologist with an NHS practice at Hammersmith Hospital, part of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust. He trained at Oxford University Medical School, undertaking an intercalated MA in Medical Sciences.
Dr Ashley Spencer
Dr Ashley Spencer is ranked first nationally for entrance into dermatology training which has earned her a place on the North London Dermatology Training Programme. Dr Ashley Spencer specialises in many treatments for skin conditions, especially skin manifestations of connective tissue disease, including lupus. As a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, the British Association of Dermatologists and the British Society for the Study of vulval disease, Dr Ashley Spencer has access to the latest information about dermatology.
Mr Jonathan Dunne
Consultant Plastic Surgeon
Mr Jonathan Dunne is a Consultant Plastic Surgeon with nearly 15 years of experience. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Plastic Surgery), specialising in skin cancer, facial plastic surgery, and head and neck surgery.
When you are faced with difficult medical choices or uncertainty and you want clarity about your diagnosis and the treatment that you will receive, then getting a second opinion from a private doctor can help put your mind at rest.
I can’t recommend this clinic highly enough. The treatment I received for my skin cancer was first classAL, London
The team at the Devonshire Clinic were excellent. From booking my appointments to every part of my treatment, I felt that I was in the very best hands.CH, London
Before visiting the clinic I had quite high expectations, but I was blown away by just how brilliant the experience was. I felt like I was the only patient in the clinic. Simply the best medical treatment.SF, London
Dr Conal Perrett and Dr Ian Logan of The Devonshire Clinic have published an important retrospective study on a rare tumour called pleomorphic dermal sarcoma in the journal Cancer Reports.
Dr Conal Perrett, Consultant Dermatologist at The Devonshire Clinic and senior author of the st[...]Read More