Squamous Cell Cancer Diagnosis & Detection
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How Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed?
Potential squamous cell carcinomas are first examined visually. Your doctor or dermatologist will first examine the area, noting its size, shape, color and texture, as well as any bleeding or scaling. Your doctor may also examine nearby lymph nodes to see if they are enlarged. At this point, if you are being seen by a primary care physician, you may be referred to a dermatologist who can perform more specialized tests and make an accurate squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis.
A dermatologist may use a special microscope or magnifying lens to examine the suspicious spot more closely, a process called dermatoscopy. They may also take a digital or photographic image of the spot.
The next step in diagnosing squamous cell carcinoma is to remove a piece of the suspicious growth for examination by a laboratory, where they will look for cancerous cells. In many cases, your doctor will remove the whole growth. During this procedure, your doctor will numb the area before removing a tissue sample. There are several different biopsy methods, but removal of the entire growth through an excisional biopsy is often sufficient to treat a squamous cell carcinoma.
Other types of biopsies include a shave biopsy, in which your doctor shaves off the top layers of the lesion, and a punch biopsy, in which the doctor uses a special tool to cut a tiny round piece of the tumor, including deeper layers of the skin.
If you receive a squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis, your doctor may also perform some tests to determine whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the skin. Although squamous cell carcinomas do not typically spread, when they do the first place they usually spread is to nearby lymph nodes. Your doctor may feel to see if any lymph nodes are enlarged. They may also take a biopsy of any suspicious lymph nodes to see if they contain cancer cells.
In very rare cases where it is suspected that the cancer has spread, other imaging tests, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used to determine if cancer cells have spread to internal organs and bones.
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