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Diagnosing Skin Cancer

If initial test results show abnormal skin cells, your doctor may refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist. If the dermatologist thinks that skin cancer may be present, a biopsy, or sample of skin from the suspicious area, will be checked for cancer. There are three types of biopsies to test for skin cancer.

  • Shave biopsy: The doctor "shaves" or scrapes off the top layers of the skin with a surgical blade.
  • Punch biopsy: This type removes a deeper skin sample with a tool that resembles a tiny cookie cutter.
  • Incisional and excisional biopsies: For an incisional biopsy, a surgeon cuts through the full thickness of skin and removes a wedge for further examination. An excisional biopsy is when the entire tumor is removed.

Other tests such as a chest X-ray, CT scan or MRI may be used to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.