How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, and the numbers are rising. People of all ages and skin colours can get skin cancer on any part of their body.

When caught early, the outlook for skin cancer is generally favourable with high success rates for non-melanoma skin cancer. However, if you have noticed any changes to your skin or moles, it’s essential to make an appointment with your GP to see if you should follow up with a skin specialist.

In this article, we’ll explore the signs and symptoms of skin cancer to watch out for, when you should get a skin cancer screening and how skin cancer is diagnosed.

How can you identify skin cancer?

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer can vary greatly. You should see your GP if you notice any of the following:

  • A spot or sore that doesn’t heal in four weeks
  • A sore that heals but then returns
  • A scaly patch of skin
  • A mole that changes or is different from your other moles
  • Brown or black streaks under the nail

ABCDE skin cancer rule

There are two main types of skin cancer — non-melanoma skin cancer and melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, making it the more deadly form of skin cancer. It’s essential to catch melanoma skin cancer quickly, which is why dermatologists recommend that you conduct frequent self-examinations of your moles or pigmented spots.

The ABCDE Rule Skin Cancer PNG

To help you spot the signs of melanoma early, The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • A is for Asymmetry – Is one half of your mole an irregular shape or unlike the other?
  • B is for Border – Is the border of your mole or spot irregular, jagged or poorly defined?
  • C is for Colour – Does the spot have varying or uneven colours from one area to the next?
  • D is for Diameter – Is your mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • E is for Evolving – Has your mole or spot changed in size, shape or colour over the past few weeks or months?

What is a skin cancer screening?

Cancer screenings are examinations or tests that check people for early stages of cancer — typically before any symptoms have been detected. There is no national skin cancer screening programme in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from a skin cancer screening.

If you are at higher risk for skin cancer, it’s important to have regular skin cancer screenings and mole checks. Individuals with a higher risk of developing skin cancer are those who have:

  • A history of sunburns (especially in childhood)
  • A job or occupation that requires spending many hours in the sun
  • Lighter skin colour
  • Many moles or freckles
  • A history of using sunbeds
  • A previous case of skin cancer
  • Past radiation exposure
  • A weakened immune system

During your skin cancer screening, a skin cancer nurse specialist will check your moles and skin and take images of any suspicious areas for telemedicine reporting by our skin cancer reporters. If necessary, they will refer you to a specialist for further assessment and possible biopsy.

Check4Cancer offers a fast-track skin cancer screening clinical service called SkinCheck for anyone who wants their moles checked or a clinical opinion from skin cancer specialists. Our dedicated skin cancer nurse specialists will conduct a thorough evaluation of your skin, take high-quality pictures and arrange for your results and personalised recommendations to be sent in just five days.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

Skin cancer is most treatable when caught early, so if you are suspicious of any spot or notice any symptoms, you should make an appointment with your GP.

Depending on your symptoms, your GP might examine your skin using a non-invasive tool called a dermatoscope and ask you questions about your history. Some GPs can diagnose some kinds of non-melanoma skin cancer, or they might refer you to a specialist for further tests.

If your GP or skin specialist suspects skin cancer, they will likely recommend a skin biopsy.

What is a skin cancer biopsy?

The only way to know for sure if you have skin cancer is to have a skin biopsy. This is a minor surgical procedure in which part or all of the suspicious sample of skin is removed. Typically you would be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area first.

The sample would then be sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope for cancer cells. It typically takes between two to three weeks to receive the results.

There are several different types of skin cancer biopsies.

Incisional biopsy

An incisional biopsy is when your doctor removes a small part of the abnormal area of the skin with a knife, before stitching the area closed with removable or dissolvable stitches.

Excisional biopsy

During an excisional biopsy, the doctor uses a surgical knife to remove all of the abnormal areas and a small border of healthy tissue surrounding it before stitching it up.

Punch biopsy

A punch biopsy is performed with a special instrument that takes a small circle of the full thickness of the skin. Stitches may or may not be required to close the area.

Shave biopsy

A shave biopsy is also done using a special instrument to slice off the top layer of skin or lesion. Then the wound is cauterised with another instrument to allow it to heal without stitches.

Diagnostic tests for skin cancer

In most cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, there is no need for further diagnostic tests.

In rare cases, skin cancer may spread to the lymph nodes, causing swelling. If there is any suspicion that the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, your doctor might recommend a lymph node biopsy or more detailed diagnostic imaging tests such as a CT scan or an MRI scan.

Book a skin cancer screening today

Skin cancer can affect anyone of any age, but the good news is that it’s highly treatable when caught early.

A skin cancer screening is a fast and non-invasive way to thoroughly check your skin and moles for potential skin cancer. Anyone who has a history of frequent exposure to the sun or who is looking for reassurance about their moles could benefit from personalised, clinical advice during a skin cancer screening.

We offer a fast-track private skin cancer screening service at clinics nationwide. Our skin specialists will take high-quality images, provide expert guidance and advice and arrange for rapid referrals if necessary.

Don’t delay in getting your suspicious moles and skin changes checked today — it just could save your life. Book your SkinCheck today.