Most skin cancers can be seen on the surface of the skin, so it is important to perform self-checks and watch for unusual moles, lumps, sores, blemishes, markings, changes in the way skin looks or feels or spots that change in size, shape, sensation or color or don’t heal.
Basal cell carcinoma appears as a small, pink bump or patch. It is usually found on the head or neck, but may appear on any part of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma looks like basal cell carcinoma, but is usually more scaly and rough. It appears on the head, neck, ears, lips, backs of arms and hands and areas of the skin that have scars or ulcers.
When examining the skin, follow the ABCDEs for early skin cancer detection:
The first step in diagnosing skin cancer is a medical exam, during which a physician examines the suspect spots. The physician may make a referral to a dermatologist for a more in-depth exam. As with other cancers, the only way to know for sure is with a biopsy—a procedure in which all or part of the tumor is sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope. The sample can be “shaved,” “punched” or cut from the skin.
Lymph nodes are olive-shaped glands that carry cancer from one area of the body to another. If it is suspected that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, these may be biopsied as well. If advanced melanoma is suspected, it may require a needle or surgical biopsy as well as chest x-rays, CT, MRI, PET, and/or bone scans to determine if it has spread to other areas of the body.