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Skin cancer diagnosis and treatment

How do I know if it's skin cancer?

The first signs of skin cancer are usually a noticeable change in an area of skin or the size or shape of a mole.

If you are concerned about these changes, get them checked by your GP.

The GP can then decide whether a referral to a specialist is needed for further assessment, tests and treatment.

Photos of the area may be sent to a specialist by the GP.


A skin cancer diagnosis is confirmed by carrying out a biopsy - removing a small patch of skin or a mole for laboratory testing to check for cancer cells.

The area of skin will be numbed with anaesthetic so the procedure is not painful.

If melanoma skin cancer is diagnosed, other tests may be arranged to assess the degree of cancer spread (metastasis). They include:

  • Imaging. Your doctor will arrange one or more tests to look for metastasis. They include CT scan, MRI scan, X-ray and blood tests.
  • A sentinel lymph node biopsy may be carried out to see if melanoma has spread to nearby glands, called lymph nodes.

What are the treatments for skin cancer?

Most skin cancers are detected early enough to be removed before they spread.

Doctors will assess the skin cancer in a process called staging. This ranges from stage 0, where the melanoma is on the surface of the skin to the more serious stage 4, where other areas of the body are affected, such as the lungs, brain or other skin areas.

The treatment for stage 1 melanoma is to surgically remove the melanoma and a small area of skin around it.

In later stages, lymph nodes may also need to be removed.

In advanced stages, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug treatments may be recommended.

These include immunotherapy, monoclonal antibodies and signalling inhibitors to help the body fight the melanoma.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 30, 2017

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