Skin Cancer Overview (cont.)

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When is a mole dangerous or high-risk for becoming a skin cancer?

Moles are almost always harmless and only very rarely turn into skin cancer. If a mole becomes cancerous, it would be a melanoma. There is a pre-cancerous stage, called a dysplastic nevus that is somewhat more irregular than a normal mole. Moles never become squamous cell carcinomas or basal cell carcinomas.

What are the most common sites where skin cancer develops?

Skin cancers typically arise in areas of the skin exposed to the sun repeatedly over many years such as the face, ears, back of the neck, and the bald area of the scalp. Less commonly, these tumors may appear at sites with only limited sun exposure such as the back, chest, or the extremities. However, skin cancer may occur just about anywhere on the skin.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

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A skin examination by a dermatologist is the easiest way to get a definitive diagnosis of skin cancer. In many cases the appearance alone is sufficient to make the diagnosis.

A skin biopsy is usually used to confirm a suspicion of skin cancer. This is performed by numbing the area under the tumor with a local anesthetic such as lidocaine. A small portion of the tumor is sliced away and sent for examination by a pathologist, who examines the tissue under a microscope and renders a diagnosis based on the characteristics of the tumor.

What is the staging for skin cancer?

There is no specific staging system for basal cell carcinoma. If the tumor is wider than 2 cm (about ¾ inch diameter), it is probably a more serious tumor. Basal cell carcinomas of the ears, nose, and eyelid may also be of more concern.

There is a staging system for squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors that are thicker than 2 mm, invade the nerve structures of the skin, occur on the ear, and have certain worrisome characteristics under the microscope are of more concern. If the tumor metastasizes away from the primary tumor, the cancer is upgraded to a very dangerous tumor.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/13/2014

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