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Diagnosing Skin Cancer

Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to detect (find) and diagnose skin cancer. Common tests and procedures include:
  • Skin examination
  • Biopsy.
Skin Examination
In a skin examination, the doctor or nurse will check the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
In a biopsy, all or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist (a doctor who studies diseases) to see if cancer cells are present. There are three main types of skin biopsies:
  • Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to shave off the abnormal-looking growth
  • Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire 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.

Current Treatment for Skin Cancer

Most skin cancer treatment currently involves some kind of surgery. In most cases, skin cancer is removed completely during biopsy with no further treatment required. Most nonmelanoma skin cancers are curable, but people who have had skin cancer have a higher-than-average risk of developing another skin cancer.

Preventing Skin Cancer

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. Doctors suggest that people of all ages limit their time in the sun and avoid other sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Recommendations for skin cancer prevention include:
  • It is best to stay out of the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever you can. You should also protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice. UV radiation can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants made of tightly woven fabrics, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses that absorb UV radiation.
  • Use sunscreen lotions. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer, especially broad-spectrum sunscreen (to filter UVB and UVA rays) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. However, it is still important to avoid the sun and wear clothing to protect your skin.
  • Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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