Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, but it is also the most easily cured type when it is diagnosed early and treated promptly. 

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s specialized physicians are experts at screening for and diagnosing all types of skin cancer. Many also are involved in clinical research aimed at developing more effective ways to detect and diagnose the disease. 

Skin Cancer Screening

Screening helps UT Southwestern specialists find and treat skin cancer before symptoms appear. To detect precancerous moles and spots, our doctors use proven screening methods that include: 

Physical exams

Our specialized physicians conduct thorough physical examinations aimed at recognizing skin abnormalities that could be cancerous or precancerous. They often use a high-powered microscope called a dermatoscope to get a highly detailed look at the skin. 

If patients have a suspicious mole or growth – or a patch of skin that has changed in shape, color, size, or texture – they should point it out to their doctor. 

Full-body photography

For patients who have numerous moles on their body or a family history of skin cancer, our doctors might take photos of their body from different angles. These images will be used as a baseline to help track any changes over time. 

Pigmented Skin Lesion Clinical Practice

The only service of its kind in North Texas, this UT Southwestern clinic follows patients with cancer syndromes (such as Cowden syndrome and Gorlin syndrome), patients with dysplastic nevi syndrome, those who have undergone organ transplants, and those with strong family histories of skin cancer. 

The goal is to identify patients with suspicious moles or other pigmented lesions so that cancerous changes can be detected, treated early, and, in some cases, prevented. 

Diagnosis

A biopsy (tissue sample) is used to get a definitive diagnosis of skin cancer. If we suspect that a spot on the skin is cancerous or precancerous, we will remove a small sample of the questionable tissue and send it to UT Southwestern’s pathology specialists for evaluation under a microscope.

If skin cancer is confirmed, our pathologists use additional laboratory testing to determine its exact type and stage (the degree to which it has spread). 

We offer in-house molecular profiling of skin cancers, which enables doctors to identify key mutations (such as the BRAF gene in melanoma) and other patient-specific characteristics of the disease. This sophisticated evaluation technique helps our physicians recommend highly personalized, evidence-based therapies. 

The doctor might also take a biopsy of the lymph node closest to the cancerous spot (the sentinel lymph node) or remove the lymph nodes near the affected spot (dissection) to determine if the cancer has metastasized (spread) beyond that spot to other parts of the body. 

All diagnostic tests help us determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

Staying Healthy

While every case of skin cancer is different, our skin cancer experts recommend these general guidelines to people previously diagnosed with the disease:

  • See a dermatologist for follow-up care and skin cancer screening as often as he or she suggests. Patients who have had melanoma and other particularly aggressive skin cancers might be advised to follow up regularly with their oncologists or surgeons as well.
  • Minimize sun exposure. Avoiding the sun can be a major lifestyle change for people who enjoy being outdoors, but it’s critical for those who have had skin cancer to protect their skin. When patients must be in the sun, they should wear long clothing, a hat, and sunglasses – and apply sunscreen liberally to exposed skin every two hours.