Skin Cancer

Diagnosis & Tests

Your general healthcare provider or dermatologist will check for any unusual patches or lesions on your skin at your annual check-up. Your skin will be examined for any suspicious areas that you have noticed. You will also be asked about: 

  • When you first noticed the skin abnormality
  • Any changes that you have noticed
  • If you feel any pain, itching, or tenderness
  • Your personal history of sunburns and sun exposure
  • Your family history of skin cancer

Sometimes a small skin sample, called a biopsy, will be taken after the area has been numbed or frozen with an injection of local anesthetic. The sample may be removed with a small scalpel, needle, or "punch" tool, or it may be gently shaved. The sample will be checked under a microscope by a pathologist to determine whether abnormal cells are present. Usually, there is minimal or no scarring, but check with your healthcare provider or dermatologist if you are concerned.

If the sample shows that there are cancer cells present in your skin, your healthcare provider may send you for other tests such as lymph node biopsy and imaging evaluations. The dermatologist will establish a “stage” for your tumor based on its size, spread, cell type, depth, and how quickly the cells are dividing. The type of cell will also determine which treatment your oncologist (cancer specialist) or dermatologist recommends.

Last Updated August 2020