Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Skin cancer is extremely common. However, it’s easy to assume a skin lesion or a mole is harmless when it’s actually cancer. While basal and squamous cell cancer tend to grow slowly, melanoma can be more aggressive.

It is critical to receive an early, accurate diagnosis. A precise diagnosis helps us create an effective treatment plan that will give you the best long-term results.

Expert skin cancer diagnosis at Allegheny Health Network

At Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, we use sophisticated diagnostic methods to detect cancer quickly and accurately, so you can begin treatment right away. We offer:

  • Patient-centric care: Trained dermatologists offer routine skin cancer screenings throughout our community locations. The earlier we detect cancer, the more successfully we can treat it. We also offer robust support services to treat the whole person.
  • Advanced diagnostic technology: These techniques includes mole and lymph node mapping, to detect whether the cancer has spread. We use the information to plan a targeted course of treatment for you.
  • Compassionate care management: A Navigation Team is available to answer questions about next steps and help coordinate your care.
  • A team approach: Our surgeons work closely with pathologists and dermatologists. You benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists, ensuring that you receive the most precise diagnosis possible.
  • Preventive care: Talk to your primary care physician or one of our skin cancer specialists to determine when you should begin yearly skin exams. These preventive exams are especially important if you are at high risk, such as having a family history of melanoma.

Diagnostic procedures for skin cancer

Skin cancer diagnosis includes:

  • A physical exam: A physician, often a dermatologist, examines your skin to look for suspicious growths. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas tend to look red and flaky. Melanomas are often larger and multi-colored.
  • Mole mapping: This procedure uses full-body photographs of your skin to monitor changes in existing moles and to detect new ones. Physicians use this cutting-edge preventive measure at your annual skin exam. It’s especially helpful for tracking moles for high-risk individuals, such as those with a family history of melanoma.
  • Biopsy: We remove a small amount of tissue from your skin, for examination under a microscope. A biopsy can determine if cancer is present. During a biopsy, we give you an anesthetic so you will be comfortable. Biopsy procedures include:
    • Shave biopsy, using a tool similar to a razor
    • Punch biopsy, using a circular tool that removes a small section of skin
    • Excisional biopsy, using a scalpel to remove an entire lump
  • Sentinel lymph node mapping: Our specialists use this minimally invasive melanoma diagnostic tool to remove a sentinel node near cancerous tissues. A pathologist who specializes in skin cancer determines whether the node contains cancer cells and if the cancer has spread. Right now, we are using this for melanoma and other aggressive skin cancers including Merkel cell carcinoma. Our researchers are pioneering this technique for squamous cell cancer as well.

Risk factors for melanoma

Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It can spread rapidly. Often, patients with melanoma have many moles. They also might have a family history of melanoma. We specialize in monitoring high-risk patients.

If we suspect melanoma, we will perform a biopsy of the affected area, including nearby lymph nodes, to see if the cancer has spread. Our highly trained pathologists work closely with oncologists to quickly and accurately diagnose suspected melanoma.

People with melanoma might have:

  • Asymmetrical, irregularly shaped moles
  • Moles with ragged or uneven borders
  • Moles that are various colors instead of one shade
  • Lesions that are larger than 6 millimeters in diameter
  • Moles that change size, shape, or color quickly over time

Our dermatologists and oncologists are trained in screening and identifying these changes and can quickly determine whether you’re at risk of melanoma.

Skin cancer treatment

After our skilled team has diagnosed and staged the cancer, we discuss your treatment options with you. We offer many surgical options, radiation therapy, and medical oncology. Find out more about our approach to treating skin cancer and melanoma.

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.

Monthly free cancer screenings

Early cancer detection saves lives. See AHN free cancer screening dates, locations and eligibility requirements for each screen offered.  Then, call to register for your free cancer screenings.