Non Melanoma Diagnosis
If you suspect you have a non melanoma, get it checked out immediately. Non melanomas are very curable if diagnosed early.
Your doctor should take a full medical history and discuss the suspicious area to discover when the lesion appeared, whether it has changed in size or color and whether there are any other similar marks on the body.
The only conclusive way to tell whether you have a skin cancer or not, is through a skin biopsy. This involves taking away a piece of the suspicious area and looking at it under a microscope to see whether any cancer cells are present.
If the suspected area is very small, the biopsy can sometimes be done at the local doctor's surgery or health clinic. Otherwise you may be referred to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in the skin).
Diagnosis of Non Melanoma: Biopsy
There are several types of skin biopsy depending on the type of non melanoma and where it is:
- A shave biopsy takes a shaving from the top layer of the suspicious skin, under local anesthetic.
- Incisional biopsy involves the removal of just a small piece of the suspicious area.
- A punch biopsy involves using a tiny piece of equipment resembling a biscuit cutter to remove a deeper sample of skin. Again the area is anaesthetized.
- Excisional biopsy involves removing the whole of the suspicious area under local anesthetic with a surgical knife.
*For both excisional and incsioinal biopsies stitches will be needed to pull together the area where the skin has been removed.
In some countries the results of the biopsy can be back within several days, particularly if you have private healthcare. However in the majority of countries the results usually take two to three weeks. This is because non melanomas are very slow growing and there is not the same urgency for treatment, as there is with some other forms of cancer.
If the skin sample is shown to have some cancer cells further tests may be necessary. The majority of people don't need these tests as it's rare for non melanomas to spread
If the whole of the affected area has been removed, the sample would be looked at to ensure that a margin of healthy tissue around the cancerous area has also been removed.
If it is suspected that the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, a lymph node biopsy may be carried out. This involves carrying out a fine needle biopsy of the node under local anesthetic and removing a very small piece of tissue for testing. If the results of that aren't clear, then it may be necessary to remove the node surgically to see whether it contains any cancer cells.
Other tests to rule out the possibility of the non melanoma spreading are chest X-rays (because in very rare cases Squamous Cell Cancer can spread to the lungs) and computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans which can show up any lymph nodes affected by cancer.