Skin Cancer

Diagnosis

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally diagnosed and two forms of skin cancer that are treated in the same way. When an area of skin does not look normal, the doctor may remove all or part of the growth. This is called a biopsy. To check for cancer cells, the tissue is examined under a microscope by a pathologist or a dermatologist. A biopsy is the only sure way to tell if the problem is skin cancer.

Doctors generally divide skin cancer into two stages: local (affecting only the skin) or metastatic (spreading beyond the skin). Because skin cancer rarely spreads, a biopsy often is the only test needed to determine the stage. In cases where the growth is very large or has been present for a long time, the doctor will carefully check the lymph nodes in the area to see if the skin cancer has spread. In addition, the patient may need to have additional tests, such as special x-rays, to find out whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Knowing the stage of a skin cancer helps the doctor plan the best treatment.

Skin cancer has a better prognosis, or outcome, than most other types of cancer. Although skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in this country, it accounts for much less than 1 percent of all cancer deaths. Skin cancer is cured in 85 to 95 percent of all cases. Still, any diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, and it's natural to have concerns about medical tests, treatments, and doctors' bills.

Some patients become concerned that skin cancer treatment may change their appearance, especially if the skin cancer is on their face. Patients should discuss this important concern with their doctor. And they may want to have a second opinion before undergoing skin cancer treatment.

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