Diagnosing melanoma and skin cancer

Whether you are a self-confessed sun worshipper or you never leave the house without a thick layer of sunscreen, you are at risk for melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Even though skin cancer often occurs in people with fair skin and is frequently linked to sun exposure, it can happen to anyone. 

The good news is, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of skin cancer. And when it’s found at its earliest stage, you have a greater chance of successful treatment.

Even if you were not diagnosed early, there is still hope. We offer the latest treatments, even for cancer that has begun to spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of your body. 

Reducing your risk of melanoma and skin cancer

The easiest way to detect skin cancer early is through regular skin checks. You can perform these yourself at home, taking time to become familiar with your skin and scanning it periodically for any unusual changes.

You should also have an annual skin cancer screening by a medical professional, such as your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. He or she will thoroughly examine your skin, scalp, fingernails, toenails, and other areas of the body where skin cancer can develop. And if they find any suspicious moles, bumps, lesions or other concerns, they can order a skin biopsy or other diagnostic tests. 

There are other simple ways to lower your risk of skin cancer, including: 

  • Avoid sun exposure during the middle of the day (the sun’s rays are usually strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

  • Do not use tanning beds. 

  • Wear sunscreen every day, year-round (including cloudy days). Your sunscreen should be “broad-spectrum” and have a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15.

  • Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts that cover your arms and legs, as well as a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Melanoma and skin cancer diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have skin cancer, he or she will may look at your skin to determine whether your skin changes are likely to be skin cancer. Further testing may be needed to confirm that diagnosis including removing a sample of suspicious skin for testing (skin biopsy).

If you are diagnosed with melanoma or another type of skin cancer, your doctor may need to “stage” it. Staging is finding out how much cancer is in your body and where it’s located. This helps doctors plan treatment options and assess your outlook (prognosis). Your treatments will depend on what type of skin cancer you have and whether it is contained to one small area of skin or has begun to spread.