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How Do Doctors Test For Skin Cancer

Why Is An Early Diagnosis Important

How to do a skin cancer CHECK! – Medical Doctor Explains

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer that affects Americans. One in five people in the United States will develop some type of skin cancer by the time they reach age 70.

The good news is early detection of all types of skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, can greatly improve your chances of being cured.

Additionally, catching a skin cancer early on could make treatments easier. Smaller, simpler lesions are easier to remove surgically and less likely to result in scarring or disfigurement.

Its important to pay attention to new or changing skin spots and see your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary, notes the ACS.

Skin Cancer Diagnosis Always Requires A Skin Biopsy

When you see a dermatologist because youve found a spot that might be skin cancer, your dermatologist will examine the spot.

If the spot looks like it could be a skin cancer, your dermatologist will remove it all or part of it. This can easily be done during your appointment. The procedure that your dermatologist uses to remove the spot is called a skin biopsy.

Having a skin biopsy is essential. Its the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. Theres no other way to know for sure.

What your dermatologist removes will be looked at under a microscope. The doctor who examines the removed skin will look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your biopsy report will tell you what type of skin cancer cells were found. When cancer cells arent found, your biopsy report will explain what was seen under the microscope.

Can Blood Tests Or Scans Detect Skin Cancer

Currently, blood tests and imaging scans like MRI or PET are not used as screening tests for skin cancer. However, some national studies are underway to determine if concentrations of skin cancer DNA can be detected by blood tests. Occasionally, imaging detects signs of advanced disease. Sometimes, skin cancer that has spread to internal organs is detected incidentally when a patient is undergoing an imaging study such as MRI or PET scan for unrelated conditions.

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Tests Or Procedures That Examine The Skin Are Used To Diagnose Basal Cell Carcinoma And Squamous Cell Carcinoma Of The Skin

The following procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patients health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Skin exam: An exam of the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
  • Skin biopsy: All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. There are four main types of skin biopsies:
  • Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to shave-off the abnormal-looking growth.
  • Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth. Enlarge Punch biopsy. A hollow, circular scalpel is used to cut into a lesion on the skin. The instrument is turned clockwise and counterclockwise to cut down about 4 millimeters to the layer of fatty tissue below the dermis. A small sample of tissue is removed to be checked under a microscope. Skin thickness is different on different parts of the body.
  • Incisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove part of a growth.
  • Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth.

Should I Use A Skin Cancer Detection App

Skin checks

Anything that reminds you to look for signs of skin cancer is a good thing. However, some smartphone apps claim to be able to assess certain skin changes and inform individuals whether such changes warrant a visit to a dermatologist for further analysis.

Thus far, the accuracy of these is not high enough and relying solely on an app, rather than on your own observations and visits to a doctor, you could put yourself at risk by delaying a visit to the doctor when one is warranted. In one recent study, the most accurate skin cancer detection app missed almost 30% of melanomas, diagnosing them as low-risk lesions.

However, these apps are evolving, and one day they could become part of the arsenal to help detect skin cancer.;Smartphones can be useful in terms of telemedicine. For instance, in locations where dermatologists may not be readily available, a local physician can send a photo of a suspicious mole to a dermatologist and based on visual inspection and communication with that physician, determine what steps to take next.

Recommended Reading: How To Tell If Something Is Skin Cancer

Cancer May Spread From Where It Began To Other Parts Of The Body

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if skin cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually skin cancer cells. The disease is metastatic skin cancer, not lung cancer.

Skin Color And Being Exposed To Sunlight Can Increase The Risk Of Basal Cell Carcinoma And Squamous Cell Carcinoma Of The Skin

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesnt mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include the following:

  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight over long periods of time.
  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
  • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
  • Blue, green, or other light-colored eyes.
  • Red or blond hair.

Although having a fair complexion is a risk factor for skin cancer, people of all skin colors can get skin cancer.

  • Having a history of sunburns.
  • Having a personal or family history of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, actinic keratosis, familial dysplastic nevussyndrome, or unusual moles.
  • Having certain changes in the genes or hereditary syndromes, such as basal cell nevus syndrome, that are linked to skin cancer.
  • Having skin inflammation that has lasted for long periods of time.
  • Having a weakened immune system.
  • Being exposed to arsenic.
  • Past treatment with radiation.
  • Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.

    Recommended Reading: How To Identify Skin Cancer

    Should You Get Your Tumor Tested

    If youve been diagnosed with cancer, you may consider tumor DNA sequencing. This procedure, sometimes called genetic testing or genetic profiling, helps pinpoint unique DNA changes in a tumor.

    Sometimes, identifying a genetic mutation in your cancer can help your doctor personalize your treatment plan. For example, certain medicines, especially targeted therapies, are only successful for people with specific gene alterations.

    A tumor DNA sequencing test is usually done by sending a sample of your tumor to a lab.

    This type of testing is often recommended for people with lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma. There are new drug approvals for patients with certain rare mutations, regardless of the type of cancer you have, so it may prove beneficial for all cancer types, especially if a patient’s;cancer is metastatic;or still progressing after their first type of therapy.

    The tests dont benefit everyone with cancer, so you should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.

    How Often Should You Get A Skin Cancer Exam

    How to Get Tested for Skin Cancer

    Experts disagree on this question. Some medical groups say you should only get a screening if you have suspicious moles or you have a high chance of getting melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

    Others recommend a yearly screening for people who are at high risk for skin cancer. A few things make you more likely to get it:

    • Blond or red hair, light eye color, and skin that freckles or sunburns easily
    • People in your family have had melanoma
    • Youve had unusual moles in the past
    • Youve had sunburns before, especially any that blistered
    • Youve used tanning beds
    • You have more than 50 moles or any that look irregular

    Also Check: What Is The Main Cause Of Skin Cancer

    How Does The Doctor Find The Stage Of Skin Cancer

    If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will:

    • Take your medical history.
    • Do a thorough physical exam.
    • Examine the size, depth, and appearance of the skin cancer.
    • Check nearby lymph nodes . Your doctor may do a biopsy of the lymph nodes. To do this, a little tissue is removed and examined.

    Based on these exams, your doctor usually has enough information to know if the cancer is in an early or an advanced stage.

    What Tests Do Doctors Use To Make A Skin Cancer Diagnosis

    Doctors will usually first perform a visual exam to check for skin cancer. Theyll assess the size, shape, color, and texture of the spots on your skin.

    You may also be asked about any symptoms you have and your family history of skin cancer.

    If youre seeing your primary care physician, you might be referred to a dermatologist who specializes in skin diseases.

    Dermatologists often use special microscopes, magnifying lenses, or other tools to examine a spot more closely. This process is called a dermatoscopy.

    Your doctor might also feel your lymph nodes to see if theyre enlarged.;

    Read Also: Can Basal Cell Carcinoma Cure Itself

    See A Suspicious Spot See A Dermatologist

    If you find a spot on your skin that could be skin cancer, its time to see a dermatologist. Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Often a dermatologist can treat an early skin cancer by removing the cancer and a bit of normal-looking skin.

    Given time to grow, treatment for skin cancer becomes more difficult.

    What About A Skin Self

    Mole Check & Screening

    Whether youre at high risk or not, getting familiar with your own skin is very beneficial.

    According to the American Cancer Society, regular skin self-exams are especially important if youve had skin cancer or are at higher risk.

    Plan on doing your skin self-exam in a well-lit room after you bathe or shower.

    While facing a mirror, check:

    • your face, ears, neck, chest, abdomen
    • underneath breasts
    • underarms and both sides of arms
    • your palms and the tops of your hands, between fingers, and under fingernails

    Sit down to check:

    • the front of your thighs and shins
    • the top and bottom of your feet, between your toes, under toenails

    With a hand mirror, check:

    • the back of your calves and thighs
    • your buttocks and genital area
    • your lower and upper back
    • the back of your neck and ears
    • your scalp, using a comb to part your hair

    If this is your first time doing a self-exam, take note of how moles, freckles, and blemishes look and feel. Get to know whats normal so youll notice when somethings abnormal.

    You can even take photos if theres an area you want to watch. Repeat the exam once a month.

    • a large brown spot with darker specks
    • a mole that changes size, color, or feel
    • a mole that bleeds
    • a small lesion with irregular borders and variations in color
    • a painful lesion with itching or burning
    • dark lesions on your:

    Read Also: How Fast Does Subungual Melanoma Grow

    What Happens During A Skin Cancer Full Body Exam

    The screening usually takes 10 minutes, or longer if the doctor sees any moles that look unusual. Youll take off all of your clothes and put on a medical exam gown. Your doctor will ask if you have any moles that concern you. Then, they will then look at every inch of your body — from your face, chest, arms, back, and legs to less-visible places like your scalp, between your toes, and the soles of your feet.

    Causes Of Skin Cancer

    Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, though the risk increases as you get older.

    The majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.

    Some factors that increase your risk of skin cancer include:

    • sunburn

    Recommended Reading: What Does Stage 3b Melanoma Mean

    What Happens If They Find Something

    If your doctor finds a spot that could be cancerous orpre-cancerous, theyll likely want to take a picture for your medical chart andperform a skin biopsy.

    During a biopsy, the doctor will remove a small amount of tissueto be examined under a microscope by a pathologist. This is a simple procedurethat can be done right then and there, in the office. Theyll clean the area ofskin where the spot is located, numb it with an injection of anesthesia, anduse a blade or scalpel to take a sample of the skin. You shouldnt feel anypain, aside from the pinch from the injection.

    That sample will be sent to the lab for testing, and your doctor willshare the results with you when they are available. This usually happens withina few days but could take up to a week or longer.

    If the spot turns out to be cancerous, it may need to becompletely removed or treated with other methods, Dr. Riley says.

    How To Check For Skin Cancer

    How to Diagnose Skin Cancer | Skin Cancer

    This article was medically reviewed by . Dr. Litza is a board certified Family Medicine Physician in Wisconsin. She is a practicing Physician and taught as a Clinical Professor for 13 years, after receiving her MD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in 1998.There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 786,826 times.

    Early detection of skin cancer is important and can be lifesaving, especially for certain types of skin cancer such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It is estimated that 76,380 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2016 and over 13,000 will die from the skin cancer.XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Cancer SocietyNonprofit devoted to promoting cancer research, education, and supportGo to source Given that timing is so crucial to diagnosing and treating skin cancer, you should follow a few simple steps to learn how to detect skin cancer on your skin.

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    What Screening Tests Are Available For Melanoma

    In addition to practicing sun safety, its important to do regular skin self-exams to find potential melanoma early. To do a self-exam, stand in front of a full-length mirror in a brightly lit room. Check all areas of your body, assessing any moles and lesions using the A-B-C-D-E Rule.;Have another person check your scalp and back of your neck.

    If youre at high risk for melanoma due to family history, many atypical moles or precancerous lesions or past skin cancer, your doctor may recommend additional testing.

    What Happens During A Skin Cancer Screening

    Skin cancer screenings may be done by yourself, your primary care provider, or a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the skin.

    If you are screening yourself, you will need to do a head-to-toe exam of your skin. The exam should be done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You’ll also need a hand mirror to check areas that are hard to see. The exam should include the following steps:

    • Stand in front of the mirror and look at your face, neck, and stomach.
    • Women should look under their breasts.
    • Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
    • Look at the front and back of your forearms.
    • Look at your hands, including between your fingers and under your fingernails.
    • Look at the front, back, and sides of your legs.
    • Sit down and examine your feet, checking the soles and the spaces between the toes. Also check the nail beds of each toe.
    • Check your back, buttocks, and genitals with the hand mirror.
    • Part your hair and examine your scalp. Use a comb along with a hand mirror to help you see better. It may also help to use a blow dryer to move your hair as you look.

    If you are getting screened by a dermatologist or other health care provider, it may include the follow steps:

    The exam should take 10-15 minutes.

    Recommended Reading: How To Protect Your Self From Skin Cancer

    How Can I Detect Skin Cancer

    The first answer is to simply look at your skin. Because you see your skin every day, you are detector number one. By knowing what is normal for your skin, and then thoroughly inspecting it on a regular usually monthly basis, many skin cancers can be self- detected.

    When examining your skin, take note of all existing spots, moles and freckles on your skin, so that youll know when changes occur or a new one appears. You can track these easily with this body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology. Stand in front of mirror and examine your front and back, head to toe. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, palms and the back of your upper arms. Use a hand mirror to check the back of your neck, scalp, buttocks and other hard-to-see places. Dont forget the bottoms of your feet and between your toes.


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