Glossary
January 16, 2009 – Jennifer M. Gangloff
Breaking News from ASCO
June 09, 2006 – Staff Reports
House Call
June 09, 2006 – Jay Thomas, MD, PhD
Breast Cancer & MDS
January 09, 2009 – Elizabeth Whittington
Bookshelf
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Web Exclusive: Follow-Up Care for Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – The National Cancer Institute
Weighing Prevention Versus Cost
June 09, 2006 – Melissa Knopper
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – Susan R. Peck, PhD
Sharing a Lifetime
June 09, 2006
Sunburn Reasons & Remedies
June 09, 2006 – Monica Zangwill, MD
Inherited Syndromes Link Cancers
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Future Risk for Survivors
June 09, 2006 – Rabiya S. Tuma, PhD
Nature's Spoils
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
The Discovery of Taxol
June 09, 2006 – Frank Stephenson
Melanoma: The Other Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Picture Not Perfect
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Science of Suncreen
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Planning for Death
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Does Heaven Exist?
June 09, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
To Be or Not To Be: Is That the Right Question?
June 09, 2006 – Harvey Max Chochinov, MD PhD
Is It Time to Change the Design of Clinical Trials?
June 09, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Drink Up
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Life Well-Lived
June 09, 2006 – Deborah Lang Hampton
Web Exclusive: Caregivers Often Neglect Their Mental Health
June 09, 2006 – The American Cancer Society
Letters from Our Readers
June 09, 2006
Message from the Editor-at-Large
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Choosing a Counselor
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Tips for Preventing Infection
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cancer as a Legacy
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Fighting Cancer Together
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Running on Empty
June 09, 2006 – Melissa Knopper
The Blame Game
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
People & Places
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Beautiful Day: The Story of a Son's Loss
June 09, 2006 – Kevin Cropp
Surf & Turf
June 09, 2006 – Jennifer M. Gangloff
Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Saving Your Skin
June 09, 2006 – Monica Zangwill, MD
Confronting Death
June 09, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
Glossary
January 16, 2009 – Jennifer M. Gangloff
Breaking News from ASCO
June 09, 2006 – Staff Reports
House Call
June 09, 2006 – Jay Thomas, MD, PhD
Breast Cancer & MDS
January 09, 2009 – Elizabeth Whittington
Bookshelf
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Web Exclusive: Follow-Up Care for Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – The National Cancer Institute
Weighing Prevention Versus Cost
June 09, 2006 – Melissa Knopper
Currently Viewing
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – Susan R. Peck, PhD
Sunburn Reasons & Remedies
June 09, 2006 – Monica Zangwill, MD
Inherited Syndromes Link Cancers
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Future Risk for Survivors
June 09, 2006 – Rabiya S. Tuma, PhD
Nature's Spoils
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
The Discovery of Taxol
June 09, 2006 – Frank Stephenson
Melanoma: The Other Skin Cancer
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Picture Not Perfect
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Science of Suncreen
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Planning for Death
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Does Heaven Exist?
June 09, 2006 – Jo Cavallo
To Be or Not To Be: Is That the Right Question?
June 09, 2006 – Harvey Max Chochinov, MD PhD
Is It Time to Change the Design of Clinical Trials?
June 09, 2006 – Alice McCarthy
Drink Up
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Life Well-Lived
June 09, 2006 – Deborah Lang Hampton
Web Exclusive: Caregivers Often Neglect Their Mental Health
June 09, 2006 – The American Cancer Society
Letters from Our Readers
June 09, 2006
Message from the Editor-at-Large
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Choosing a Counselor
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Tips for Preventing Infection
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Cancer as a Legacy
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
Fighting Cancer Together
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
Running on Empty
June 09, 2006 – Melissa Knopper
The Blame Game
June 09, 2006 – Kathy LaTour
People & Places
June 09, 2006 – Elizabeth Whittington
A Beautiful Day: The Story of a Son's Loss
June 09, 2006 – Kevin Cropp
Surf & Turf
June 09, 2006 – Jennifer M. Gangloff
Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Saving Your Skin
June 09, 2006 – Monica Zangwill, MD
Confronting Death
June 09, 2006 – Jo Cavallo

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are almost always visible and easy to detect--if you're looking for them. 

BY Susan R. Peck, PhD
PUBLISHED June 09, 2006

Unlike most other forms of cancer that develop within the body and require special diagnostic tools for detection, skin cancers are almost always visible. Regular examinations of the skin can therefore identify changes early. Though a dermatologist can provide an initial assessment of a suspicious area, a person’s primary care physician should be consulted when an irregular area is first noticed. From there, the physician may recommend seeing a dermatologist if the skin condition requires further evaluation or treatment. 

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are associated with typical appearances that aid in their identification. Basal cell carcinomas can appear as either a flat, pale area, or as a raised red or pink area with a translucent, shiny or waxy surface, possibly with blue, brown or black areas. Blood vessels may be visible, and the lesion may bleed easily following minor injury. Squamous cell carcinomas may grow as a flat reddish patch or in lumps. However, other suspicious changes that signal skin cancer include a sore that does not heal, scaly patches of skin or areas that are scar-like and firm. Doctors who believe a particular lesion looks suspicious will want to take a sample, or biopsy, of the region to be examined more closely by a pathologist.

Several different methods can be used to sample the area in question. For a shave biopsy, the doctor uses a surgical blade to shave off a thin layer of skin. In contrast, a punch biopsy may be performed to allow the doctor to sample a deeper layer. A special tool called a trephine, which looks like a miniature cookie-cutter, is used for this procedure to obtain a core containing all three layers of skin. Finally, an incisional biopsy may be performed in which a larger portion of the lesion is removed, or the entire lesion may be removed during an excisional biopsy. These procedures can be performed using a local anesthesia, and the choice depends on the type of cancer suspected and which method will provide the best sample to facilitate diagnosis.

Though rare, when it is suspected that the cancer has spread from the original skin site to nearby lymph nodes, the doctor may also perform a biopsy of the suspicious node. One method, called fine needle aspiration biopsy, uses a narrow needle to obtain small tissue fragments for examination. If the biopsy results are unclear, the entire lymph node may need to be surgically removed.

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