First Stop: Diagnosis
You’ve read a little about skin cancer after a friend was diagnosed. You joined a support group online to better understand what your friend is dealing with. After noticing several articles about self-exams, you decide to take a closer look at your own skin. You have a few moles and have had them since you were born, but you see a spot you don’t recall noticing before. You aren’t really worried and just make a mental note to watch it. A month or so later, you notice the same spot looks a bit different. The edges seem to be a little less regular than they were before. You still aren’t really worried; it’s not a dark spot. In fact, it’s sort of pink. A few weeks later, you find yourself scratching and look down to find yourself clawing at that same pink spot. Hmmm.
Googling skin cancer images
You pull up Facebook and scroll through the support group after looking through far too many photos of skin cancers in Google Images. By this point, you have worried yourself into near hysterics. There are eleventy gazillion photos of spots, rashes, moles, and skin anomalies, and yours looks like all of them and none of them at the same time! Your mind races, and you decide to post a picture of your spot on one of the support group pages and ask if it looks similar to anything anyone else there has had diagnosed as skin cancer.
Getting your skin checked
Most skin cancer patients and their friends and family members are going to tell you, “When in doubt, get it checked.” You might hear someone say his spot looked similar or was the same color. You might even have a few people tell you that theirs looked much worse or had irregular borders like yours but didn’t itch. If I have learned anything from experiencing both melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, it’s that skin cancer takes a variety of forms and the appearance can even vary from one diagnosis to the next. A new spot, a changed spot, and a spot that you cannot easily explain should be seen by a doctor.
Seeing a healthcare professional
Taking that all-important first step toward a skin cancer diagnosis can be nerve-wracking, especially when you aren’t familiar with the process. Your spot may be nothing, but there is a doctor out there who can tell you–that doctor is more familiar to you than you might think. Many people assume that a dermatologist visit is required to diagnose skin cancer. Dermatologists however, are the specialists who will give you more detailed care tailored to your skincare needs. I didn’t realize until my melanoma was diagnosed in my small hometown clinic that general practitioners can easily perform a biopsy of the skin. In fact, my family doctor is the one who took off the mole that turned out to be malignant. I was then referred to a dermatologist for follow up care and have been with the same group of doctors since 2007.
You may also bring up your concerns about your spot with a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are capable of removing a spot or mole by punch biopsy, too. This quick method requires a local anesthetic and, generally, doesn’t require any stitches. A little advice about aftercare of the small wound, a Band-aid, some information about the estimated time it will take to receive your results, and you are on your way.
Receiving a diagnosis
It is well worth the time to schedule a quick visit to your family doctor or nurse practitioner to discuss the concerns you have about your spot. Once you have taken that step, you are well on your way to a diagnosis. In my experience, the biopsy result obtained from my family doctor allowed his office to secure an immediate appointment with a dermatologist for excision of the area to check the margins for further spread of the melanoma. Dermatologists’ offices are often booked several months ahead. The chances of you being able to ease your mind with a quick diagnosis are much greater if you try your family doctor first. Rest assured, your primary care physician will lead you in the right direction when and if a skin cancer diagnosis is made.
Don’t procrastinate your skin check
There are fantastic support groups scattered throughout social media sites. Among them are knowledgeable and helpful skin cancer veterans. None of them, however, will tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that your mole or lesion is skin cancer. At best, they can tell you it resembles something they experienced. The most effective advice they can give you will be to follow your gut. If you cannot explain it and it is weighing on your mind, get it checked. Whatever you do, don’t put off what you can easily address with your family doctor.