All potentially cancerous skin growths must be biopsied to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Depending on the suspected type of skin cancer, the biopsy techniques vary slightly but crucially.
Any potential melanoma requires a surgical biopsy, in which the entire growth is removed with a scalpel if possible. A pathologist then studies the sample under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present.
If you are in a high-risk group for skin cancer or have ever been treated for some form of the disease, you should familiarize yourself with how skin cancers look. Examine your skin from head to toe every few months, using a full-length mirror and hand mirror to check your mouth, nose, scalp, palms, soles, backs of ears, genital area, and between the buttocks. Cover every inch of skin and pay special attention to moles and sites of previous skin cancer. If you find a suspicious growth, have it examined...
Most skin cancers are detected and cured before they spread. Melanoma that has spread to other organs presents the greatest treatment challenge.
Standard treatments for localized basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are safe and effective and cause few side effects. Small tumors can be surgically excised, removed with skin scraping and electric current cauterization, frozen with liquid nitrogen, or killed with low-dose radiation.
In rare cases where basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma has begun to spread beyond the local skin site, the primary tumors are first removed surgically. Then patients may be treated with radiation, immunotherapy in the form of interferon, and rarely, chemotherapy. However, responses to this therapy are infrequent and short-lived. Rare patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma respond well to a combination of retinoic acid (a derivative of vitamin A) and interferon (a type of disease-fighting protein produced in labs for cancer immunotherapy). Retinoic acid may inhibit cancer recurrence in patients who have had tumors removed, but there is a lack of evidence to support either of these treatments. Vismodegib (Erivedge) may be used to treat the rare cases of locally advanced, or metastatic, basal cell carcinoma and has been shown to shrink these tumors. Sonidegib (Odomzo) can be used to treat patients with locally advanced basal cell carcinoma who are not candidates for surgery or radiation. It may also be used if the skin cancer returns after surgery or radiation.