Skin Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

Expert diagnosis for skin cancer

Scripps cancer surgeon and scientist Dr. Laura Goetz looks at samples in a lab, representing the importance of an accurate skin cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Laura Goetz, Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, Scripps Clinic

Expert diagnosis for skin cancer

Most skin cancers begin as unusual spots or bumps that are visible to the naked eye. But the steps involved in diagnosing skin cancer vary. In some cases, a physician will remove suspicious areas without actually testing them for cancer, while other cases require further diagnostic testing and determining the type of skin cancer and how far it may have spread.


Scripps MD Anderson provides a full range of services to diagnose and prevent skin cancer.

How is skin cancer detected and diagnosed?

Skin cancer often has visible signs and symptoms in the early stages, such as new growths or spots on the skin, or changes in the appearance of a mole. To confirm the type of cancer, Scripps physicians may take a tissue sample for a biopsy.

Imaging and diagnostic testing

Should you or your doctor find an unusual growth or spot on your skin, Scripps physicians may use advanced imaging and lab tests to diagnose skin cancer. These may include a variety of biopsies, dermatoscopy and imaging tests.

Skin cancer stages

Scripps MD Anderson oncologists use skin cancer stages to determine whether cancer has spread from the skin to other areas of the body. Staging may be important for developing a skin cancer prognosis and treatment plan.


Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are staged differently than melanomas. Because basal cell cancers are usually caught and treated early, staging may not be necessary.


Staging may be more important with squamous cell skin cancers, which may be more likely to spread, especially in people who have weakened immune systems.

Understanding your diagnosis

After a skin cancer diagnosis, you may feel anxious, scared, depressed or overwhelmed. It can be helpful to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and your options, so that you can make informed, confident decisions about the next steps to take.


Questions and considerations

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor or health insurance provider regarding your diagnosis:


  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • How do I find a specialist?
  • What is my cancer treatment plan?
  • Will I have to miss work/school?
  • What are the side effects of skin cancer treatment?
  • How successful is my treatment likely to be?
  • What costs will be covered by insurance?
  • Which costs will I be responsible for?


Your Scripps MD Anderson cancer team is here to help you find the answers you need to take an active role in your care. In addition, there are a number of community resources that provide education, information and helpful resources — often at no cost.


Learn more about the many cancer patient resources available to you and your loved ones via Scripps.