Detection and diagnosis of skin cancer
The cure rate for skin cancer could be 100 percent if all skin
cancers were brought to a doctor's attention before they had a
chance to spread. Therefore, people should check themselves
regularly for new growths or other changes in the skin. Any new,
colored growths or any changes in growths that are already present
should be reported to the doctor without delay. Doctors should also
look at the skin during routine physical exams. People who have
already had skin cancer should be sure to have regular exams so
that the doctor can check the skin--both the treated areas and
other places where cancer may develop.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally
diagnosed and treated in the same way. When an area of skin does
not look normal, the doctor may remove all or part of the growth.
This is called a biopsy. To check for cancer cells, the tissue is
examined under a microscope by a pathologist or a dermatologist. A
biopsy is the only sure way to tell if the problem is cancer.
Doctors generally divide skin cancer into two stages:
- Local (affecting only the skin)
- Metastatic (spreading beyond the skin)
Because skin cancer rarely spreads, a biopsy often is the only
test needed to determine the stage. In cases where the growth is
very large or has been present for a long time, the doctor will
carefully check the lymph nodes in the area. In addition, the
patient may need to have additional tests, such as special x-rays,
to find out whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the
body. Knowing the stage of a skin cancer helps the doctor plan the
Questions to ask the doctor
Skin cancer has a better prognosis, or outcome, than most other
types of cancer. Although skin cancer is the most common type of
cancer in this country, it accounts for much less than 1 percent of
all cancer deaths. It is cured in 85 to 95 percent of all cases.
Still, any diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, and it's natural
to have concerns about medical tests, treatments, and doctors'
bills. Patients have many important questions to ask about cancer,
and their doctor is the best person to provide answers. The
following are some other questions that patients might want to ask
- What types of treatment are available?
- Are there any risks or side effects of treatment?
- Will there be a scar?
- Will I have to change my normal activities?
- How can I protect myself from getting skin cancer again?
- How often will I need a checkup?
Some patients become concerned that treatment may change their
appearance, especially if the skin cancer is on their face.
Patients should discuss this important concern with their doctor.
And they may want to have a second opinion before treatment.
National Cancer Institute,
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a
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