How We Diagnose Skin Cancer

The self-examination section explains the simple “ABCDEs” of identifying potential skin cancers early. If you see one or more of the warning signs described, make an appointment with a physician immediately.

It’s important to note that not all skin marks that show some of the ABCDE characteristics are cancerous, but the more ABCDE features a skin mark has, the more likely it could be skin cancer. It is always wise to be overcautious when evaluating suspected skin cancer. Though pictures are helpful to self-examine your skin, only a physician will be able to diagnose skin cancer.

City of Hope adheres to guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) to detect all types of skin cancer, using such diagnostic tests and procedures as:
  • Skin examination; a doctor or nurse examines the skin for moles, birthmarks or other pigmented areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape or texture
  • Laboratory tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Biopsy; tissue samples are examined under a microscope to determine what types of cells are present
  • Wide local excision; a surgical procedure in which some of the normal tissue surrounding the area where skin cancer was located is removed and checked for cancer cells
  • Lymph node mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy; during surgery to remove a melanoma or related skin tumor, a radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected and flows through lymph ducts to the sentinel node or nodes. Cancer cells are likely to spread to these nodes first. Nodes containing the radioactive substance or dye are removed and checked for cancer cells. If no cancer is detected, it may not be necessary to remove additional nodes.
  • CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan; a procedure using a computer connected to an X-ray machine to obtain detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be used to help visualize organs or tissues more clearly.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging); creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body using the combination of a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan; used to identify malignant cells even before an actual “lump or bump” can be detected in a physical exam or on CAT or MRI scans. A small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. Because cancer cells divide more rapidly than normal cells, they take up more glucose than normal cells and therefore appear brighter in the scan.
City of Hope is here to help. We are committed to making the process of becoming a patient here as easy as possible. Call 800-826-HOPE (4673) or complete the online appointment form.