Skin Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

Skin Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

From Women’s Health Resource

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One of the most important factors contributing to the success of cancer
treatment is how early a case of cancer is detected. This is true for
almost all types of cancer, including skin cancer. By recognizing the early signs of skin cancer, a more appropriate treatment can be selected. Indeed, by some estimates, nearly all cases of skin cancers would be curable if only they were caught earlier.

Skin Examinations: Detecting Signs of Skin Cancer

Regular skin examinations are one of the best diagnostic tools in the
early detection of skin cancer. These can (and should) be performed
both by yourself as well as by a doctor. These exams are particularly
effective in detecting warning signs of melanoma.

When performing skin cancer self exams, you should especially be
looking for the appearance of moles. When evaluating whether or not a
mole is a cause for concern, experts recommend using the ABCDE rule:

A is for asymmetry. Look for moles that are not symmetrical (don’t look the same on both sides).

B is for border. Also keep an eye out for any moles that have blurry or jagged outlines.

C is for color. You should be concerned if the color of your mole changes (i.e. darkening, spread or loss of color, multiple colors).

D is for diameter. Moles larger than 1/4 inch in diameter should be brought to the attention of a medical professional.

E is for elevation. Raised or uneven moles could be a sign of skin cancer.

You doctor will be looking for similar patterns when he does a clinical
skin evaluation. This should be performed on a yearly basis. For those
with a greater risk of skin cancer, such as those with a family history of the condition, however, exams should be performed more often.

Getting a Skin Cancer Diagnosis: Skin Biopsies

While self-examinations are often an effective tool for detecting early
signs of skin cancer, in order to make an accurate diagnosis your
doctor will need to perform a biopsy, in which a small sample of skin
is removed for analysis by a pathologist. Prior to receiving the
biopsy, you will likely be given a local anesthetic to numb the area
under investigation.

There are several types of biopsies currently used to diagnose
skin cancer. What type your doctor will choose will depend on what type
of cancer is suspected and the extent of the presence of suspicious

    Shave biopsy. This type of biopsy involves removing the skin
    using a tool similar to a razor. In general, a shave biopsy will not
    require stitches.

    Punch biopsy. A punch biopsy requires the doctor to use a
    circular tool to remove a small section of the skin’s deeper layers.
    Stitches are usually required, as the wound generally extends about 1/4
    inch deep.

    Excisional biopsy. This slightly more invasive procedure
    involves the removal of the entire visible growth or abnormal skin
    tissue. For patients with nonmelanoma skin cancer, such as squamous
    cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma, this may be the only treatment

    Incisional biopsy. An incisional biopsy involves the removal of
    only a sample of the suspicious cells using a scalpel. Stitches may be
    required, depending on the amount of skin removed. This is the most
    common type of biopsy performed.

Biopsies are effective tools for evaluating both the presence of
cancerous cells as well as the extent (or grade) of the cancer, which
is normally expressed on a scale of 1 (least aggressive) to 4 (most
aggressive). Generally, the results take one or two days to establish;
however, your doctor will inform you of how long of a wait you should


Skin Cancer Diagnosis

An Introduction to Skin Cancer Biopsies and Staging

From , former Guide

Updated: July 13, 2009 Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

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