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What Is a Shave Biopsy?

With a skin biopsy, a safety razor makes it possible to obtain just enough of a sample to view under the lens of a microscope.
A scalpel is typically used during a shave biopsy.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2014
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A shave biopsy is a process where a small amount of the top layer of a skin abnormality is harvested for the purpose of testing for the presence of any type of malignant cancer cells. The biopsy is relatively painless and can be conducted by a healthcare professional with relative ease. Once the sample is harvested, it is normally examined under a microscope. In the event that the sample indicates the presence of cancer cells, further testing is usually conducted.

The actual procedure involves the use of a sharp razor blade that is gently skimmed over the surface of the infected skin. With a skin biopsy, the action of the safety razor makes it possible to obtain just enough of a sample to view under the lens of a microscope. This means minimal discomfort to the patient, both during and after the sample is collected.

Depending on the size and appearance of the skin abnormality, the sample obtained through a shave biopsy may be significant in size, resulting in some bleeding. Rather than use electrocautery procedures to stop the bleeding, many physicians will make use of ferric subsulfate solution, also known as Monsel’s solution. The properties of the liquid serve as a styptic and protect the area where the skin sample was removed.

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There are several benefits associated with undergoing a shave biopsy. One has to do with the ease and speed of the procedure. Depending on practices in different countries, the patient may be offered some type of local anesthetic, or have the procedure with no anesthetic at all. In either case, the collection of the sample requires very little time, allowing the patient to quickly get back to his or her normal routine.

Another benefit of the shave biopsy is that the sample can be evaluated quickly. Often, the sample is checked while the patient is resting. In the event that basal cell cancer is detected, the patient can be notified immediately, and a course of action arranged without further delay. This may include an outpatient procedure to remove the skin cancer, or require a hospital stay if the physician suspects the problem is more severe.

Undergoing a shave biopsy usually results in little to no pain for the patient. In situations where some bleeding occurs or the patient does experience some discomfort, the physician will often provide prescriptions for soothing ointments to be applied to the area where the skin sample was harvested. The ointments help to deaden any pain, as well as protect the area as it heals.

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