If your doctor does find a suspicious mole, a sample of tissue is removed (a biopsy) for examination under a microscope. The doctor first numbs the skin with an injection of a local anaesthetic.30 There are several types of biopsy:

  • Excision biopsy: The recommended type of biopsy for melanoma.31 The doctor will cut out the whole mole and some normal skin around it. Your doctor will close the wound using stitches. These will be removed after 5–14 days, depending on where the mole was. Some people may have stitches that dissolve, which don’t need to be removed. This is the most common type of biopsy when melanoma is suspected.30
  • Incision biopsy: Sometimes a lesion is very large or in a place where it can't be easily removed. In these cases, an incision biopsy can be done. An incision skin biopsy removes only part of the lesion.30
  • Punch biopsy: The doctor uses a sharp, hollow instrument to take a punch biopsy – a small circle of skin.30
  • Shave biopsy: The doctor uses a special instrument to shave off the top layer of skin.30

Before the biopsy is taken, your doctor will explain the procedure to you and you will be asked to sign a permission (consent) form for the mole to be removed.29

Once you’re lying down comfortably, your doctor will numb the area by injecting a local anaesthetic into the area around the mole before taking the biopsy.

The biopsy is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist (an expert in cells) to see if any melanoma cells are present.29

It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your biopsy to be ready. Waiting for test results can be difficult and you may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend.29

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

  • What type of biopsy do you suggest for me?
  • How will you perform the biopsy? Will you remove the entire growth?
  • How long does a biopsy take?
  • Will the biopsy hurt?
  • What are the risks of a biopsy? What about infection or bleeding?
  • Will the biopsy leave a scar? What will it look like?
  • When will I find out the results?
  • If I have cancer, who will talk to me about treatment?

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