If your healthcare provider suspects you have a basal cell carcinoma (BCC), you should be referred to a dermatologist. If your BCC is found early, it can usually be treated in the dermatologist’s office during a single visit.

Process for diagnosing BCC

  • Your dermatologist will take a medical history, addressing your sun-exposure history, any other relevant medical information, and your (as well as your family’s) history of any other skin cancers
  • The dermatologist may suggest a full head-to-toe skin examination to look for other problem areas. You can always ask your dermatologist to perform one if s/he doesn’t suggest it and you haven’t had one recently. They will usually use a dermatoscope (a specialised magnifying glass) to help look at the lesions in more detail
  • The dermatologist will determine if you need a skin biopsy. S/he will numb the skin and take part or all of the spot. Biopsy is the only way to know whether the spot is actually cancer or not. That sample will be examined by a specialist who will look at the tissue under the microscope

Preparation for a Dermatology Appointment for a Suspected Skin Cancer

Your dermatologist will review the biopsy procedure with you, discuss the potential risks and benefits, answer your questions, and obtain your consent before doing the biopsy. In most cases, a biopsy can be completed in one office visit. It can leave a little scar. Your dermatologist will provide you with specific details before the procedure. After the biopsy is completed, it will be sent to a pathology laboratory where it will be examined by a pathologist or dermatopathologist under a microscope to determine whether you have a skin cancer. A pathologist is a medical professional who uses laboratory tests and direct evaluation of cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. A dermatopathologist specializes in skin pathology, a subspecialty of pathology and dermatology.

What Will the Pathology Report Tell Me?

The specialist looking at your biopsy writes a report called a pathology report. The pathology report will contain some key information about the biopsy, such as the following:

  • Whether the specialist thinks it is cancer or not
  • If there is cancer, what type
  • The stage of the cancer based on the tumour characteristics
  • Whether the cancer has any “high-risk/aggressive” features

You may want to obtain a copy of your pathology report and should be able to request this from the team looking after you.