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Test Result Anxiety – The Adult Version

Remember when you were in school and had just taken a really hard test? And how anxious you were while waiting to find out how you did on it? And how relieved you were once you were finished with school, that the days of tests were over? Unfortunately, if you have skin cancer, your days of waiting for test results are not over, even if you’re an adult and have been out of school for many years. Even worse, these are tests you can’t study for.

Repeated biopsies and recurring anxiety

Throughout my experience with basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, each procedure brought on not only the anxiety of having the procedure, but also the anxiety of waiting for two test results – the initial pathology report after a biopsy to determine if an area is indeed skin cancer and needs removed, and once the removal has occurred, the results on if the excision was successful and the entire cancerous area removed.

Wondering if skin cancer hurts

I recently had a new area appear rather quickly. It looked like a hard red bump but soon thereafter formed a bit of crusting on top of it….and it hurt, which wasn’t normal for my cancerous areas. I did a quick internet search on if skin cancer hurts (even though I’ve had skin cancer for over 20 years, there’s still much for me to learn about it), and what I got were results all over the place. One site said that skin cancers typically don’t hurt until they’ve grown rather large. One site said that skin cancers typically don’t hurt at all. Another site said that skin cancers can itch or be painful. Yet another said that while skin cancer areas can be painful, they will more likely be itchy. Clear as mud, right?

In denial about squamous cell carcinoma

And so, I decided that this quick-growing bump was not skin cancer, even though my dermatologist told me it looked like squamous cell to her and that squamous cell areas were typically fast growing and seem to appear out of nowhere. Of course my thinking wasn’t logical, but that was what I wanted to believe – and because I really did not want to have a surgery so close to the holidays.

Pathology report causing more anxiety

The day my doctor did the biopsy, she asked if I wanted to go ahead and schedule the surgery for removal, and I told her that I’ll wait until the pathology report comes back (because it wasn’t going to be cancerous, right?) And when the pathology report came back the next day as squamous cell, my brief time of disillusionment was over and I scheduled the surgery. Test result number one was finished…..1 down, 1 to go. I had made it through the waiting for the first result without too much anxiety. But after finding out it was indeed skin cancer and I then had a 3-inch incision on my chest from removal of the squamous cell, the anxiety of getting the next test result set in because I did not want to have to undergo another excision, which would be necessary if the entire cancerous area hadn’t been removed.

Good news post surgery

I was in a meeting at work when I noticed my phone was ringing…..there it was – the call from my doctor. My phone screen continued to flash “Dr. K”, but I wasn’t able to answer. I knew she was calling with the test results, which suddenly made me extremely anxious. What if the results came back that the entire area hadn’t been removed and I had to go back for more surgery? Won’t it really hurt to re-open an incision and cut out more? How much bigger would the new incision need to be? Yikes. I’d worked myself into a tizzy within a matter of minutes. As soon as the meeting was over, I hightailed it out of there so I could listen to the voicemail from my doctor. Thankfully it was good news, and she said she was calling to let me know that all the margins were clear and I didn’t have to come back in for additional surgery for this spot. And what a relief it was to hear that I had passed the test!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • lpetchen
    2 years ago

    I’m so happy your margins came back clear! But it’s true, it’s always a waiting game and we never know if we pass or fail with each anxiety-ridden skin check.

    I agree with it you regarding the invasive nature of the Moh’s surgery. Kind of ironic in that it’s supposed to be more skin sparing! I’ve had both procedures done and the punch technique has left a barely detectable scar whereas the Mohs surgery site looks horrible, even more than a year later.

  • Judy Cloud moderator author
    2 years ago

    @lpetchen Thanks for your kind words about my ‘passing’ my test! 🙂 I’ve seen photos of some very radical looking surgery sites from Moh’s, but I’ve also heard quite a few people say they have good results. Thankfully there’s more than one way to treat skin cancer so we have a choice in treatment options!

  • Brenda
    2 years ago

    I’m wondering why your Dr didn’t do MOHs surgery in the beginning . You wouldn’t of had to wait to make sure it was all gone.

  • Judy Cloud moderator author
    2 years ago

    Great question, @brenda! Moh’s surgery isn’t always necessary. In fact, my doctor told me he didn’t recommend Moh’s, and after doing my own research, I agreed with him. He has since retired, and I told my new doctor I was not a fan of Moh’s. It’s more invasive, more disfiguring, and has a longer healing time. (Doing a quick search online about Moh’s vs excision shows a multitude of opinions from doctors as to when Moh’s would be indicated and when it wouldn’t.) Bottom line – follow what your doctor recommends and what you’re comfortable with and in agreement with.

  • Brenda
    2 years ago

    I’m glad you didn’t have to have MOHs. I’m glad I had MOHs so I only had one trip. For surgery . A specialist in MOHs came to my Drs office to do the surgery, from Tampa , The one on my face scared me. But I had to have 4 surgery for reconstruction . But it does make for a long day. The one on my hand before it was over they took almost the whole top of my hand . The face was a Basel cell ,hand squamous cell. I have had 3 more squamous cells but we caught them early . I’ve had more frozen than I can count .Go to a new dr next month not looking forward to it. I’m 67 been going thru this for 30 years and so glad there treatments are getting better .

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