Skip to content

Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

You can diagnose skin cancer either by doing self-exams at home or by asking your dermatologist to do annual skin screenings. If you experience any of the skin cancer symptoms mentioned above, see a skin doctor right away to see if you have skin cancer. Doing so can save your health and life. The average skin cancer skin diagnosis looks for changes in moles, new moles, changes in birthmarks, or other abnormal skin growths/developments. 

If your dermatologist thinks you have skin cancer, he or she will snip off a slice of the affected area to examine that area under a microscope to determine if and what type of skin cancer you have. This is called a biopsy. 

When making a self-diagnosis or having your dermatologist does it, always remember the ABCDE. This is explained further below:

● A stands for asymmetry or uneven shapes. Skin cancer growths tend to be asymmetric

● B stands for border. Watch out for growth with irregularly shaped borders

● C stands for colour. If you have a skin growth with different colours and tones, it is probably skin cancer

● D stands for diameter. Large moles (ones that are larger than a pea) are suspicious

● E stands for evolving. Look out for skin growths that are constantly changing in terms of shape, size, colour, or border. See a doctor immediately if this happens because you probably have skin cancer.

Skin cancer stages

Basal cell carcinoma has no specific stages. However, as a thumb rule just remembers that if you have a skin spot which is wider than ¾ of an inch in diameter, you likely have basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma tends to develop on your ears, nose, and eyelids. 

Squamous cell carcinoma has more obvious and specific stages. For example, SCC tumours are at least 2 mm thick. This type of skin cancer can metastasize into the nerves in your ears and skin and is dangerous for this reason. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma present only on the head or neck has five distinct stages:

● Stage 0 (carcinoma in Situ)

● Stage I

● Stage II

● Stage III

● Stage IV

The story is different for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which develops on your eyelids. These are the following stages for this type of skin cancer:

● Stage 0 (carcinoma in Situ)

● Stage I

● Stage II

● Stage III

● Stage IV

You need to know the stage of skin cancer you have because it will help your doctor make you undergo the best treatment plan for you. Since most types of skin cancer are not obvious, your dermatologist will have to use many staging tests to determine what stage of skin cancer you have. They are:

● CAT scan

● Chest x-ray

● PET scan

● Ultrasound exam

● An eye exam with dilated pupils

● Lymph node biopsy

CAT scan

You are positioned into a special machine which will take many detailed pictures of your chest, neck, and back. The machine will take pictures from every angle of these body parts to give your dermatologist a complete picture of the type and stage of skin cancer you may have. The CAT scan machine will have a special x-ray which will take the pictures and a computer which will interpret and print those (images) out. If the skin cancer is in an obscure place, your dermatologist may do an IV in your arm and inject a special dye which will travel to affected body parts and highlight questionable areas. Your dermatologist will analyze these highlighted areas thoroughly. If you do a CAT scan with dyes, it is called a computerized tomography. 

Chest x-ray

An x-ray is a special machine which will take detailed pictures of the affected areas of your body, which include your neck, chest, and back and the organs and bones in these areas. The machine sends radioactive x-ray beams through your body, and this creates the images which your dermatologist will analyze completely.

PET scan

This scan works with radioactive sugar which is injected through an IV in your arm. The PET scan machine will then take detailed pictures of the parts of your body, which are saturated with the sugar. The sugar will cluster around the areas of your body, which are affected by skin cancer(s). The dermatologist knows that malignant tumours tend to be in the body parts where the sugar clusters around.

Ultrasound exam

You’ll be asked to undergo while a machine that sends out special sound waves will scan your entire body. These sound waves will be interpreted as crude images by the machine which your dermatologist can then thoroughly examine and interpret. The sound waves are excellent at magnifying and imaging soft internal tissues like lymph nodes and organs. The images are called sonograms. These exams are excellent for examining you for basal or squamous cell carcinoma. 

Examining the eyes while dilating the pupils

The dermatologist will use special eye drops to widen your pupils. He or she will then thoroughly examine the insides of your eye, retina, and optic nerve with a special probing light.

Lymph node biopsy

The dermatologist will slice out small tissues, or entire sections of your lymph nodes. A pathologist will analyze the composition of tissues in the biopsies under a microscope. This is an excellent screening test for squamous cell carcinoma.

What is Skin Cancer | Types | Causes and Symptoms | Treatment | FAQs