Diagnosis and Treatment
With early detection and
proper treatment, skin cancer is highly curable. The average cure
rate when detected and treated in the early stages is 95%. Even
melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, when limited to the
outermost layers of the skin yields a 95% cure rate.
How Skin Cancer Diagnosed
A person’s ability to recognize the signs of skin cancer and perform
regular self-examinations are key to early detection. Any time skin
cancer is suspected, the lesion should be examined by a
Dermatologists detect skin cancer through a visual examination of
the skin and mucous membranes. If malignancy (cancer) is suspected,
a biopsy will be performed. This involves numbing the area and
removing the lesion, or part of it, for microscopic examination. A
biopsy is the only way to definitely tell if skin cancer is present.
Since a skin biopsy is generally a quick and simple procedure, it is
usually performed in a dermatologist’s office or outpatient setting.
The type of biopsy performed depends on the type of skin cancer
suspected, where on the body the tumor lies, and the tumor’s size.
The different types of biopsy procedures used include:
Excisional biopsy – The entire tumor
along with a margin of tissue that is not a visible part of the
tumor is removed. An excisional biopsy is the preferred method for
removing lesions suspected to be melanoma.
Incisional biopsy – A portion of the
lesion is removed during an incisional biopsy, which is usually
performed when the lesion is large. A scalpel; a hollow, circular
scalpel-like instrument called a “punch” (punch biopsy); or a razor
(shave biopsy) is used to remove the sample.
The removed sample is examined under a
microscope to determine if cancer cells are present and if so which
kind. If an excisional biopsy was performed, the physician examining
the sample also should be able to determine how deeply the cancer
has penetrated the skin.
Frequently, the removed sample is sent to a laboratory to be
examined by a dermatopathologist, a medical doctor trained in both
dermatology and pathology, who uses this expertise to
microscopically examine tissue in order to diagnose skin conditions.
Dermatopathologists provide expertise in diagnosing difficult cases.
In addition to removing the tumor or part of it, the dermatologist
also will ask the patient some questions, which usually include when
the lesion first appeared, symptoms, and the patient’s history of
If the biopsy reveals skin cancer, your dermatologist will discuss
treatment options. Treatment for skin cancer varies according to the
type, location, extent, aggressiveness of the cancer, and the
patient's general health.
The goals of treatment for skin cancer are to remove all of the
cancer, reduce the chance of recurrence, preserve healthy skin
tissue, and minimize scarring after surgery.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
More than half of
all diagnosed melanomas are first identified by the