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Further tests for skin cancer

Men and woman discussing skin cancer

This page tells you about further tests you may have if your initial tests show that you have skin cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Who needs further tests for skin cancer?

Most people with basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer will not need these tests. You will only have them if your doctor thinks that your cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes or to another part of the body. For basal cell cancers, this hardly ever happens. For squamous cell cancers, it is unlikely if they have been diagnosed early on.

Types of tests

Your doctor may ask you to have an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI scan.

Lymph node biopsy 

You may have this test if your doctor thinks there is a possibility that your cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

After your tests

You will probably feel very anxious while waiting for your test results. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing skin cancer section.

 

 

Who needs further tests for skin cancer

Most people with basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer will not need these tests. You will only have them if your doctor thinks that your cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes or to another part of the body. For basal cell cancers, this hardly ever happens. For squamous cell cancers, it is unlikely if they have been diagnosed early on.

 

Types of tests

Your doctor may ask you to have

  • An ultrasound scan
  • A CT scan
  • An MRI scan

Ultrasound scans use sound waves to look at body organs. This test is not often used in skin cancer. There is information about having an ultrasound in the cancer tests section.

CT scans and MRI scans can both show up lymph nodes and internal organs that are affected by cancer. There is information about having a CT scan and an MRI scan in the cancer tests section.

 

Lymph node biopsy

If your doctor thinks there is a possibility that your cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you may have a fine needle aspiration (FNA) or a whole lymph node biopsy. With FNA, the specialist uses a fine needle and syringe to take a sample of cells from the enlarged lymph gland (node). The specialist may use ultrasound to help guide the needle into place. A pathologist then examines the cells in the laboratory. With a whole lymph node biopsy, the specialist removes the whole lymph gland. This is then sent to the lab for testing. You may have this if the FNA did not show up any cancer cells but your doctor still suspects there may be cancer there.

If cancer cells are found, you may have surgery to remove all the nearby lymph nodes. This is because cancer cells in the nodes can grow into secondary cancers. Cancer cells can also spread from the nodes to other parts of the body. There is information about surgery to remove lymph nodes in the treatment section.

 

After your tests

You will be asked to go back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This may take a little time. Your doctor or clinical nurse specialist will give you an idea of how long the results will take. You will probably feel very anxious during this time. While you are waiting for results it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. 

You may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. You may feel there are important issues you would like to talk over with someone who is trained to help you. There are organisations in the UK that have trained counsellors who can give you support. Look on the skin cancer organisations page for details of how to get in touch. If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum.

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Updated: 9 September 2014