A diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancerwill usually begin with a visit to your GP, who will examine your skin and decide whether you need further assessment by a specialist.

Some GPs take digital photographs of suspected tumours so they can email them to a specialist for assessment.

In 2015, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines to help GPs recognise the signs and symptoms ofskin cancerand refer people for the right tests faster.

To find out whether you should be referred for further tests for suspected skin cancer, you can read the NICE 2015 guidelines on suspected cancer: recognition and referral .


If skin cancer is suspected, you may be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist) or specialist plastic surgeon. The specialist should be able to confirm the diagnosis by carrying out a physical examination.

However, they'll probably alsoperform a Biopsy , a minor surgical procedure where either part or all of the tumour is removed and studied under a microscope.

This is usually carried out under a local anaesthetic , which means you'll be conscious but the affected area will be numbed, so you won't feel any pain.

A biopsy allows the dermatologist or plastic surgeon to determine the type of skin cancer you have and whether there's any chance of it spreading to other parts of your body.

Skin cancer can sometimes be diagnosed and treated at the same time. The tumour can be removed and tested, and you may not need further treatment because the cancer is unlikely to spread.

It's usually several weeks before you receive the results of a biopsy.

Further tests

If you have basal cell carcinoma , further tests aren't usually requiredas it's very unlikely that the cancerwillspread.

However, you may have a second basal cell carcinoma on a different area of skin, so it makes sense to have all of your skin examined by the skin expert.

In rare cases of squamous cell carcinoma , further tests may be needed to make sure the cancer hasn't spread to the lymph nodes or another part of your body.

These tests may include a physical examination of your lymph nodes. If cancer has spread, it may cause your glands to swell.

If the dermatologist or plastic surgeon thinks there's a significant risk of the cancer spreading, it may be necessary to perform a biopsy on a lymph node. This is called a fine needle aspiration (FNA) .

During FNA, cells are removed using a needle and syringe so they can be examined.

Finding cancerous cells in a nearby lymph node would suggest the squamous cell carcinoma has started to spread to other parts of your body.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 5 Jan 2017