As for many types of cancer, diagnosing skin cancer early is essential as this allows treatment to start as soon as possible. Survival rates of many forms of skin cancer are high and signs of cancer in the skin can be easier to spot than in other parts of the body. It makes sense to know what to look out for and when to take action.
Our approach to skin cancer diagnosis
For most people, a consultation ends in good news—the skin condition you thought might be cancer is due to another cause and is easily treated. But if it is cancer, we make sure you enter a treatment plan without delay.
When should I seek medical advice?
We are always happy to see patients who are worried and you should book an appointment if you notice:
- An unusual mole, a mole that changes colour or a mole that bleeds or oozes
- A new mole that grows quickly
- A lump or an area of skin that has become rough, sore or itchy and won’t heal within 3-4 weeks
In most cases these conditions are not cancerous and are nothing to worry about, but you are still strongly advised to have them checked out as the treatment success rate for skin cancers is significantly increased by early diagnosis.
If left untreated, skin cancer can spread, both locally within the skin and elsewhere in the body. Treatment later on needs to be much more extensive; act quickly and more localised treatment may be all that is required.
Medical and family history
When you come in for a consultation with The Devonshire Clinic, we will ask you a number of questions about the area of skin you are worried about:
- When did the problem first appear?
- Has the lump/mole/sore area changed in size or appearance within the last few weeks?
- Does the area itch or cause discomfort?
- Is the lump or area of skin painful?
- Does it bleed or ooze fluid at any time?
You will also be asked questions about your personal medical history, your family medical history and your history of sunbathing, use of sunbeds or your exposure to chemicals such as arsenic and creosote.
Your medical examination
Your dermatologist will examine the area in question in detail, noting the size, shape and colour of any moles or lumps and the colour and texture of the skin. The lymph nodes in your armpits, groin and neck may also be examined.
Dermatoscopy and its role in skin cancer diagnosis
Many potential skin cancers can be examined easily with the naked eye, however, your dermatologist may also perform a more detailed examination using a technique called dermatoscopy or epiluminescence microscopy.
This technique uses a special microscope, with its own light source, which is held close to the skin for a more detailed examination. A thin layer of oil may be used to aid this examination.
Will I need a skin biopsy?
If skin cancer cannot be ruled out but it is not obviously cancer, we will arrange for a skin biopsy. This is a procedure in which a portion of the skin is removed and examined under a microscope to check for the presence and type of cancer cells.
Lymph node biopsy
If your dermatologist suspects that your skin cancer has already begun to spread to your lymphatic system, then they may also do a lymph node biopsy. This may involve the removal of fluid from the lymph nodes using a small needle, called a fine needle aspiration, or the complete removal of the lymph node for examination.
Further tests used in skin cancer diagnosis
If your skin cancer is suspected of spreading beyond the lymphatic system, then your dermatologist may refer you for further tests, such as a CT or MRI scan.