Sarah Cannon - April 13, 2022

It is recommended that you perform regular full body skin self-exams and have a skin exam by your doctor beginning at age 20. But if you are a loved one notices any skin changes, it is important to contact your doctor to schedule a time to have the area examined further. Here is what you should know about how skin cancer is diagnosed so that you know what to expect and help you prepare for the appointment with your doctor.  

Seeing your dermatologist

At your appointment, your doctor will study the area(s) further and possibly inspect surrounding lymph nodes. He or she may also perform a full-body skin exam. If you are visiting your primary care doctor, he or she may refer to you a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin conditions and who is specially trained, for further examination and testing.

During the appointment, be sure to tell your doctor about the change(s) and any symptoms that you may be experiencing. Your doctor will ask you to discuss the timeline (when you first noticed the irregularity), if you have a personal history of skin cancer, if you have a strong family history of skin cancer and more.

Having a biopsy

At the time of the exam and with the use of special tools, your dermatologist may be able to determine if the area is benign (non-cancerous) or if it requires a biopsy, a procedure to remove a part of the area for testing. There are many different biopsy methods, and you and your dermatologist will discuss which option is best for you and the specific area of concern. If the doctor does perform a biopsy at the time of your visit, he or she will send the sample to a lab where a pathologist will determine if cancerous cells are present, and if so, the type of cancer and the stage.

Discussing treatment options

If a pathologist confirms a skin cancer diagnosis, your doctor may be able to remove the entire tumor and some of the surrounding tissue without the need for additional treatment. Additional treatment will depend on the type of cancer, its stage and other factors. It is important to discuss the different treatment options with your doctor to determine a care plan that is right for you.

It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.


American Cancer Society - Tests for Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
American Cancer Society - Tests for Melanoma Skin Cancer