Skin Cancer Specialists

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The type of treatment required for skin cancer ranges widely. Your dermatologist may treat a small non-melanoma skin cancer in the office. Large or aggressive tumors could require extensive surgery and repair. A team of oncologists may be needed to treat advanced skin cancer.

The healthcare providers who diagnose and treat skin cancer include:

  • Primary care provider
  • Dermatologist
  • Pathologist
  • Oncologist
  • Plastic surgeon

What is a primary care provider’s role in treating skin cancer?

Primary care providers provide preventive care and health education.1 They diagnose and treat some medical problems. They refer patients to specialists for others. Primary care doctors include internists, family physicians, pediatricians, geriatricians, and gynecologists. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide primary care as well.1 They are not doctors, but they have advanced medical training.

Some primary care providers are trained to recognize skin cancer. Some primary care providers perform full-body skin examinations. Others may look for signs of skin cancer while examining you for other reasons. Primary care providers may counsel about sun protection. Your primary care provider may biopsy a suspicious lesion or refer you to a dermatologist.2

What is a dermatologist’s role in treating skin cancer?

A dermatologist is a doctor trained to treat problems of the skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes.3 Dermatologists may have experience with skin cancer.

Dermatologists play an important role in skin cancer screening. Your dermatologist can perform a full-body skin exam. Dermatologists are trained to use an instrument called a dermatoscope. A dermatoscope is a special magnifying glass. It helps your doctor to see skin structures that are invisible to the naked eye. Many dermatologists photograph lesions. The photographs allow them to track changes over time. Your dermatologist can teach you how to do a skin self-examination.

Dermatologists perform skin biopsy procedures. When the biopsy results come back, your dermatologist will interpret the report for you. Together, you and your dermatologist will develop a treatment plan. Many skin cancers can be treated by your dermatologists in the office.

A Mohs surgeon is a dermatologist with advanced training in Mohs surgery.3 A Mohs surgeon usually works in an office. Mohs surgery is an outpatient procedure.4

What is a pathologist’s role in treating skin cancer?

You may never meet your pathologist. This doctor specializes in examining tissue samples or body fluids. Pathology is needed to make a definite diagnosis of cancer. A dermatopathologist is an expert in the microscopic diagnosis of skin disease.3

When your doctor biopsies a lesion, the tissue sample is sent to a laboratory. A pathologist will look at it under a microscope to see whether the sample contains abnormal cells. Additional tests may be done to check for genetic mutations and chromosomal abnormalities. The pathologist will write a report that describes the sample. This information is essential for diagnosing skin cancer. It is also is important for determining the cancer stage.

What is an oncologist’s role in treating skin cancer?

An oncologist is an expert in treating cancer. For advanced or high-risk skin cancer, you may go to an oncologist. Cancer treatment may include surgery, medications, and radiation. Your treatment team may include a:

What is a plastic surgeon’s role in treating patients with skin cancer?

Skin cancer is often removed with surgery. The cosmetic results depend on the tumor size and location. If the tumor is small, surgery might leave only a small scar. Surgery is more difficult when the tumor is large or when the tumor is on the face, hands, or feet. Removing the tumor or lesion can cause significant defects.

A plastic surgeon specializes in repairing defects.5 A plastic surgeon might be the right doctor to remove large or prominent skin cancer.

view references
  1. MedlinePlus. Choosing a primary care provider. Accessed February 22, 2017 at: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001939.htm
  2. Firnhaber JM. Diagnosis and treatment of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86:161-168.
  3. American Board of Dermatology. What is a dermatologist? Accessed February 22, 2017 at: https://www.abderm.org/public/what-is-a-dermatologist.aspx
  4. The American College of Mohs Surgery. Mohs surgery patient education: Mohs procedure. Accessed February 22, 2017 at: http://www.skincancermohssurgery.org/about-mohs-surgery/the-mohs-procedure
  5. American College of Surgeons. Plastic surgery. Accessed February 22, 2017 at: https://www.facs.org/education/resources/residency-search/specialties/plastic
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View Written By | Review Date
Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: May 2017.
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