Diagnosis of skin cancer is usually fairly simple. Superficial cancers such as basal or squamous cell carcinoma rarely spread beyond the skin. Often times a biopsy is the only tests needed to determine and stage the cancer. However, if there is a large growth, or one that’s existed for some time, your healthcare practitioner may recommend further testing to determine the extent of the cancer.
Sometimes your healthcare practitioner can recognize skin cancer just by looking at it. In some regions of the United States and the world, healthcare practitioners do visual inspections of the skin on an annual or semiannual basis because of the prevalence of skin cancer in the region. All individuals can encourage their doctors to look for growth’s during their annual examination by examining the entire skin surface. This should be done more often if you have had a past history of skin cancer.
Many people will find skin cancer themselves while doing a skin self-examination. Your healthcare practitioner will want to do a biopsy to be certain of identifying the correct skin cancer in order to provide the most efficient and effective treatment protocol. During a biopsy the doctor will remove either some or all of the cancer and evaluate it under a microscope. This examination is usually performed by a dermatopathologist who is a doctor who studies disease tissue under a microscope.
There are two types of biopsies that can be performed for potential skin cancers. The first is an excisional biopsy which takes out the entire visible growth. If the histology report comes back as nonmelanoma skin cancer, an excisional biopsy may be the only treatment necessary. However if other cancers such as malignant melanoma are detected they generally require the removal of additional skin tissue around the site.
Another type of biopsy for skin cancer is an incisional biopsy which removes only a sample of the tumor. This is the most common type of biopsy performed and can be done in the physician’s office using local anesthesia. Further treatment will be necessary if the microscopic examination reveals that the growth is in fact cancer.
Early diagnosis of skin cancer is very important because early treatment will provide patients with almost a 100% cure rate when found and treated early.
Diagnosis will also decide the skin cancer in to two different stages. In the first the physicians may find that the cancer is localized and affects only the skin. In the second they may find that the cancer has spread beyond the skin and affects other organs of the body which is called metastatic. Because skin cancer rarely spreads, a biopsy is often the only test needed to determine the stage and potentially needed for treatment as well.
If the growth is very large or has been present for a long time, the healthcare practitioner will carefully check the lymph nodes in the area and order x-rays of the surrounding area to find out if the cancer has spread. By determining the stage of the skin cancer the healthcare practitioner is best able to plan a treatment protocol to increase the success rate.
Skin cancer has a better prognosis, or outcome, then many different other types of cancers. Although it is the most common type it accounts for much less than 1% of all cancer deaths. Researchers claim that skin cancer has an 85 to 95% cure rate in all cases.
Once a diagnosis has been made patients should discuss removal and potential plastic surgery with their physicians if they believe that the cancer removal will leave scar tissue in an disadvantageous position. By treatment with a plastic surgeon and using some of today’s medications to decrease scarring it should be fairly simple for surgical intervention of the growth to be less than a problem.
American Academy of Dermatology: Skin Cancer: Diagnosis, Treatment and Outcome
MayoClinic: Skin Cancer Tests and Diagnosis
American Cancer Society: Melanoma Skin Cancer
MayoClinic: Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer
Cancer Research Insitute: Immunotherapy for Mealanoma
MD Anderson Cancer Center: Skin Cancer Diagnosis
National Cancer Institute: Skin Cancer Screening