Q: My dermatologist would like to biopsy a mole on my forearm. I know this involves removing some skin — should I be concerned about the pain?
A skin biopsy is a routine procedure performed by dermatologists: A sample of skin is removed to diagnose a skin lesion or mole. A small amount of anesthetic numbs the skin, allowing the procedure to be almost painless. At most a biopsy feels like a slight pinch as the anesthetic is being injected. You shouldn’t feel any sensation as the tissue is removed. Some dark moles can be sampled without anesthetic, entirely pain-free, using a noninvasive adhesive patch. However, to date a traditional skin biopsy is the most widely utilized way to establish a diagnosis.
There is usually minimal pain after the anesthetic wears off. If you have discomfort, it can be addressed with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Applying ice right after the procedure can also reduce pain and inflammation, although this is unnecessary for most biopsies. For more involved biopsies, your dermatologist can inject a long-acting anesthetic.
About the Expert:
Maral Kibarian Skelsey, MD, is a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon practicing in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington and Director of Dermatologic Surgery at Georgetown University Department of Dermatology.