For Patients

What is dermatopathology?

Dermatopathology is the study of neoplasms (growths), inflammatory conditions (rashes) and other skin, hair and nail diseases at the cellular level.

Dermatopathology is an interpretive science. Physicians use their training and experience to inspect human tissue through a microscope and identify patterns and markers to make a diagnosis.

Studies have shown that many of us will have a skin biopsy at some point in our lives. Your provider may perform a shave or punch biopsy or excise a piece of tissue and send it to a lab for evaluation. It is at this point, behind the scenes, that a dermatopathologist works to make the correct diagnosis.

Why is dermatopathology important?

Melanoma and other non-melanoma skin cancers are becoming ever-more prevalent. Without knowing it, many of us are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation throughout our daily life. Whether we are driving in a car, exercising or doing yard work, harmful rays from the sun can damage our skin and increase the risk for skin cancer. Correct diagnosis of a skin cancer is crucial in order to get the appropriate treatment and follow-up. Additionally, many other skin conditions are difficult to diagnose without skin biopsy.

Does it matter where my skin biopsy is sent?

The most serious of skin cancers, melanoma, is often difficult to diagnose. Additionally, many rashes mimic each other clinically and under the microscope. Because diagnosis can present a challenge in a number of growths and rashes, you want someone who can not only identify conditions with accuracy, but who can also offer the tools and support of a world-class medical center to provide further testing, whether it be genetic mapping of a tumor, surgical removal or specialized treatment.

The Washington University dermatopathologists have trained at the finest institutions, written textbooks, and lectured about a number of diagnoses. Like any other specialty, you want the physicians with the best training and tools available to be involved in your treatment.