Skin Cancer Diagnosis

It is not easy to diagnose skin cancer. This usually requires a trained specialist to examine the area and perform a biopsy.

Types of Skin Biopsies

A biopsy can either be performed with a shave technique, punch technique, or excision. Most commonly shave biopsies are sufficient. Raised, nodular or flaking lesions are amenable to a shave biopsy. Because there is no incision, there is almost no noticeable scar using this technique.

A punch biopsy requires a small instrument to remove a core sample of the area in question. This is a very reliable choice for certain lesions because the entire thickness of the skin can be examined by a pathologist. Because punch biopsies are so small, they only require one or two small sutures to close. The scar is small and mostly imperceptible.

Excisional biopsies are simply the removal of the entire lesion in question. This is performed in cases where closure is easily achieved and the patient wants the lesion removed anyway, whether cancer is diagnosed or not.

What does skin cancer look like?

Skin cancer can take on many forms and appearances. Sometimes it is really difficult to distinguish a cancer from a precancerous lesion.

Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common skin cancers diagnosed on the face and neck. These cancers are usually colorless and appear as an area of irritation. Most patients state that they have this spot that just is not healing. As the cancer progresses, the area may become nodular, ulcerated, and bleed. These are the most concerning signs of skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is another common skin cancer that may present and spread more rapidly. Usually these cancers appear ulcerated and bleeding from the start. They progress rapidly therefor need quick diagnosis and treatment.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive skin cancers. It is also one which can be more easily identified. Melanoma is commonly pigmented and irregular. These areas change in size rapidly and may become ulcerated. They may also occur from pigmented moles that you may have had for a long time. You should watch these moles carefully for any changes that may occur. If you notice the change in color, size, border irregularity or ulcerations let your physician know right away. Melanoma can be completely cured if caught early. However, it does have a high rate of metastatic spread.

Learn more about skin cancer at the National Cancer Institutes website.