Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Understanding Skin Cancer -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Skin Cancer?

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.

Recommended Related to Melanoma/Skin Cancer

How Doctors Diagnose Metastatic Melanoma

After your doctor says you have melanoma skin cancer, your first question is probably going to be: Has it spread?  Your doctor will do tests to find out if it has moved, or “metastasized,” deeper within your skin or to other parts of your body. There are some possible clues in the lab report your doctor got when you first got your melanoma diagnosis. If the melanoma is less than 1 millimeter thick, it’s less likely to have spread than a thicker one. The report might also mention how quickly the...

Read the How Doctors Diagnose Metastatic Melanoma article > >

If melanomais diagnosed, other tests may be ordered to assess the degree of cancer spread (metastasis). They include:

  • Imaging. Your doctor will order one or more tests to look for metastasis. They include CT scan, MRI, PET scan, bone scan, and chest X-ray.
  • Other biopsies. Using a variety of techniques, your doctor may want to get tissue samples from lymph nodes.

Skin growths that are most likely basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or other forms of non-melanoma can be biopsied in various ways. Part or all of the growth can be taken with a scalpel for examination under a microscope.

 

What Are the Treatments for Skin Cancer?

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.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
 
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
 
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
ARTICLE
precancerous lesions slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
VIDEO
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
ARTICLE
 
screening tests for men
SLIDESHOW
Vitamin D
SLIDESHOW
 
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
VIDEO
Brilliant sun rays
Quiz