General Information About Skin Cancer
Nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis often appear as a change in the skin.
Not all changes in the skin are a sign of nonmelanoma skin cancer or actinic keratosis, but a doctor should be consulted if changes in the skin are seen.
Possible signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer include the following:
- A sore that does not heal.
- Areas of the skin that are:
- Small, raised, smooth, shiny, and waxy.
- Small, raised, and red or reddish-brown.
- Flat, rough, red or brown, and scaly.
- Scaly, bleeding, or crusty.
- Similar to a scar and firm.
Possible signs of actinic keratosis include the following:
- A rough, red, pink, or brown, raised, scaly patch on the skin.
- Cracking or peeling of the lower lip that is not helped by lip balm or petroleum jelly.
Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to detect (find) and diagnose nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis.
The following procedures may be used:
- Skin examination: A doctor or nurse checks the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
- Biopsy: All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to see if cancer cells are present. There are 3 main types of skin biopsies:
- Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to "shave-off" the abnormal-looking growth.
- Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth.
Punch biopsy. A hollow, circular scalpel is used to cut into a lesion on the skin. The instrument is turned clockwise and counterclockwise to cut down about 4 millimeters (mm) to the layer of fatty tissue below the dermis. A small sample of tissue is removed to be checked under a microscope. Skin thickness is different on different parts of the body.
- Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends mostly on the stage of the cancer and the type of treatment used to remove the cancer.
Treatment options depend on the following:
- The stage of the cancer (whether it has spread deeper into the skin or to other places in the body).
- The type of cancer.
- The size and location of the tumor.
- The patient's general health.