If your healthcare provider suspects you have a squamous cell skin cancer, you should be referred to a dermatologist. If your squamous cell skin cancer is found early, it can usually be treated in the dermatologist’s office during a single visit.


Process for diagnosing squamous cell skin cancer

  • Your dermatologist will take a medical history, addressing your sun-exposure history, any other relevant medical information, and your (as well as your family’s) history of any other skin cancers
  • The dermatologist may suggest a full head-to-toe skin examination to look for other problem areas. You can always ask your dermatologist to perform one if s/he doesn’t suggest it and you haven’t had one recently
  • The dermatologist will determine if you need a skin biopsy. S/he will numb the skin and take part or all of the spot. Biopsy is the only way to know whether it’s actually cancer or not. That sample will be examined by a specialist who will look at the tissue under the microscope
  • Finally, if your doctor is worried that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, s/he may request a lymph node test (a biopsy) as well as imaging studies of the lymph nodes (and potentially other areas)

Preparation for a Dermatology Appointment for a Suspected Skin Cancer

Your dermatologist will review the biopsy procedure with you, discuss the potential risks and benefits, answer your questions, and obtain your consent before doing the biopsy. In most cases, a biopsy can be completed in one office visit. It can leave a little scar. Your dermatologist will provide you with specific details before the procedure.

How long will the biopsy take?

Are there risks to performing this biopsy?

Will I have stitches?

Will the biopsy remove the lesion in its entirety?

Should I have someone drive me?

Will I be left with a scar?

What type of activity limitations will I have? For how long?

How long will it take to receive my results?

How should I care for the biopsy site after the procedure?

Will I have to come back to get stitches out?

Will the procedure be covered by insurance and what, if any, out-of-pocket expenses will there be?

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After the biopsy is completed, it will be sent to a pathology laboratory where it will be examined by a pathologist or dermatopathologist under a microscope to determine whether you have a skin cancer. A pathologist is a medical professional who uses laboratory tests and direct evaluation of cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. A dermatopathologist specializes in skin pathology, a subspecialty of pathology and dermatology.

What Will the Pathology Report Tell Me?

The specialist looking at your biopsy writes a report called a pathology report. The pathology report will contain some key information about the biopsy, such as the following:

  • Whether the specialist thinks it is cancer or not
  • If there is cancer, what type
  • The stage of the cancer based on the tumor characteristics
  • Whether the cancer has any “high-risk/aggressive” features

You may want to obtain a copy of your pathology report.

What type of skin cancer do I have?

What is the stage or grade?

Are there any high-risk or aggressive features that I should know about?

Did the biopsy remove all of the skin cancer?

How will I know if my cancer has spread?

Will I require surgery? If so, what type?

What are the treatment options? What are the plusses and minuses of each type?

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