Annual skin cancer screening is recommended for all types of skin cancer. Early detection, before symptoms appear, makes skin cancer easier to treat and provides the best outcome. If screening reveals a problem, diagnostic tests will be needed.
The vast majority of non-melanoma skin cancers are found by the patient or family member based on the appearance of the lesion. However, signs and symptoms are important as well. Suspicious lesions are an alert to see your dermatologist. Tests will diagnose the type and whether it has spread.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are frequently diagnosed by their appearance based on the size, shape, color and texture of the suspicious spot, and symptoms such as bleeding and scaling.
During your consultation, Dr. Sedrak will ask about your symptoms including any changes in size, appearance, and whether the growth is itchy, painful or bleeds. He will ask if there is a family history of skin cancer, your risk factors such as how many sunburns you have had, and whether you have had skin cancer before.
He will conduct a physical examination of the growth taking into consideration its appearance and your symptoms. He will examine the rest of your body to assure all potential tumors are identified. He may also feel the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm and groin near the tumor.
After the physical exam, Dr. Sedrak will use a special microscope called a dermatoscope to examine and evaluate the growth. Dermoscopy improves the accuracy of a diagnosis. He may also take a photo of the lesion.
When melanoma is suspected, blood tests and may order imaging tests including a CT scan, x-ray and MRI may be ordered. Because melanoma typically spreads to the nearby lymph glands, Dr. Sedrak will feel your lymph glands and if they are enlarged, he may order a lymph node biopsy. Enlarged lymph glands suggest a possible diagnosis of melanoma.
A skin biopsy is the best and often the only test necessary to diagnose skin cancer. All biopsies are performed under local anesthetic for your comfort. During the biopsy a part of the growth or the entire growth will be removed. Because basal cell cancer rarely spreads, an excisional biopsy will remove the entire tumor and some nearby tissue to assure no cancer cells are left in the body. After the biopsy you may be sore. You may have stitches or steri-strips to close the incision. Over-the-counter pain medications will be recommended for discomfort. Once healed you will have a tiny scar.
Skin Cancer Staging and Grading
Using the information from your exam, physical and biopsy, the stage of your tumor is determined. Staging is the process of determining whether the cancer has spread and if so where. Staging is used to plan treatment and predict outcome (prognosis). Generally, basal cell skin cancer is slow growing and is usually cured before it spreads. However squamous cell skin cancer can spread and recur, so staging is important. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and spreads to the lymph and other areas of the body, so staging is vital.
Grading is the process of determining how abnormal the cancer cells look. The more abnormal the more likely the cancer will grow and spread quickly. Grading also identifies the type of cancer cells.
While skin cancer diagnosis is complicated, is vital to assure you receive a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Dr. Joseph Sedrak is a board-certified, fellowship trained dermatologist and Mohs surgeon. At the Texas Skin Cancer Center with offices in Houston, Kingwood and Sugarland, Texas you will always receive private, respectful and compassionate care in a state-of-the-art facility. Contact Texas Skin Cancer Center to schedule a consultation today. Don’t wait. Early diagnosis and treatment can save you from disfigurement and suffering and may even save your life.