In my previous post about moles we discussed some of the warning signs that a mole may be suspicious for developing into melanoma. These types of moles are called atypical moles or a "dysplastic nevi." While not all atypical moles are cancerous, they do pose more risk than normal moles to develop into melanoma. So the key here is prevention and learning to spot these suspicious moles before they can cause great harm. For more information on how to identify an atypical mole please read my article entitled, "I have a Strange Looking Mole-Is it Skin Cancer?"
Perhaps you have done a self check of your moles and found one that seems atypical or else your doctor or dermatologist has identified a suspicious looking mole on your body. The next step is to combine mole removal with a biopsy. It depends upon your dermatologist but if your doctor is anything like mine, she or he will remove any worrisome moles as a preventive measure.
Just wanted to take a moment to remind everyone not to try to remove your moles at home. There seem to be countless ads on the Internet for do it yourself mole removal. You could cause unnecessary scarring and not to mention, what if the mole is cancerous? You wouldn't know without a biopsy. It is just not a good idea to try to remove a mole at home. Always see your doctor or dermatologist to get a mole removed.
I have had several suspicious moles removed and in my experience the procedure was quick, relatively painless, and I had minimal scarring. How a mole is removed greatly depends upon the size, location and type of mole. There are three primary methods to get a skin lesion biopsy:
- A shave biopsy: The doctor uses a scalpel to shave off the outermost layers of skin. Stitches are seldom needed. This type of biopsy is generally not recommended if a malignant melanoma is suspected. A shave biopsy may not get a skin sample thick enough to find out how deep the cancer goes into the tissues
- An excision biopsy: If you have an excisional biopsy your doctor will use a surgical knife to remove the entire mole or lesion particularly if melanoma is suspected. Your doctor will remove as many layers of skin as necessary in order to get the full depth of the mole or growth. You can expect to get stitches with this type of biopsy.
- A punch biopsy: If your doctor chooses to do a punch biopsy it is most likely because you have a deep skin lesion. Using a sharp cylindrical punch, your doctor will remove a small round plug of skin tissue. You may need a couple of stitches. If you are not too squeamish you can watch this youtube video of a punch biopsy. You can see that it doesn't take much time at all.
I have had the experience of getting a punch biopsy and an excision biopsy. Both types of procedures seemed similar to me as I didn't want to watch what they were doing. The first thing your doctor will do is numb the area with an anesthetic. It stings just a bit but then you will feel nothing except maybe some pressure as the doctor performs the biopsy. Each biopsy I have had took about fifteen minutes if that. Your doctor may close off blood vessels with a cautery device to stop the bleeding. Or a few stitches may be used to close the wound. Most of the literature says to expect a scar with any of these methods of skin lesion biopsy. It has been my experience that my scars are hardly noticeable and a slightly lighter color than my skin.