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Skin Cancer Diagnosis

You think you have skin cancer. What should you do first?

Generally, you would first contact your primary care physician (PCP) and share your concerns. If your PCP is concerned then you will likely be referred to a dermatologist, a skin specialist. The dermatologist will often be the one to diagnose your skin cancer. There are different types of skin cancer and the treatment will depend on the type of cancer as well as other factors such as your overall health, the location of the cancer, and results of other testing such as a biopsy.

You’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer. Now what?

Some dermatologists have experience in treating skin cancer and perform minor skin cancer surgery. In some cases the skin cancer can be removed quickly and easily by a dermatologist and no further treatment is needed, but regular follow up is recommended.

If your skin cancer will require further treatment after removal, or if the skin cancer is located in an area that’s difficult to operate on, an oncologist may be the best option. A skin cancer oncologist is most familiar with all of the various cancer treatment drugs, clinical trials, radiation treatments and supportive care services that cancer patients may need during treatment

Your oncologist at Arizona Oncology will spend time with you and your loved ones to understand your specific situation to develop a specific treatment plan for you. They will connect you with additional specialists as needed, including:

  • Skin cancer surgeon and/or plastic surgeon.
  • Radiation oncologist who can offer external radiation therapy, called brachytherapy.
  • Oncology nurses who are familiar with the skin cancer treatment process, side effects and how to best manage them.

Keep Notes and Records

Before you see an oncologist we suggest you purchase a special notebook and folder where you can take notes and keep your paperwork together regarding your skin cancer diagnosis. You should start this notebook as soon as you are diagnosed to jot down questions, dates, testing and medication regimens, and how you are feeling. It’s also a good idea to bring someone with you to the appointment for support and to help you recall the conversation later.

Questions to Ask

  • Things you might want to ask about your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment plan include:
  • What should you do to protect yourself from the sun to avoid more skin cancer developing?
  • Is surgery required? If not, what are the other treatment options?
  • Will you need a plastic surgeon?
  • What kind of side effects should you expect from the treatment that’s chosen?
  • Are there recommendations for eating, exercising or other activities that you should be aware of?
  • What to expect during your appointments? You may want to read our “Your First Visit” section before arriving at Arizona Oncology.
  • Are clinical trials an option?

How Fast Should I Make Decisions?

With skin cancer, it’s important to act but not so fast that you miss opportunities to listen to the recommended treatment plan and consider any questions you may have. The first step is typically scheduling an appointment with a skin cancer oncologist who will consult with his/her team to give you their best recommendation.

The skin cancer experts at Arizona Oncology are here to serve you with care, both physically and emotionally, as you journey through dealing with skin cancer.

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

You should feel confident about your diagnosis; many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning any treatment plan. At Arizona Oncology, our oncologists provide many second opinions – for all types of cancer diagnoses and treatment plans. Most insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but you should always check with your insurance provider to check your coverage before making an appointment.

If you’re considering a second opinion with one of our physicians, please find a location that is convenient for you. Arizona Oncology has offices located throughout the state, including Phoenix & Scottsdale area, Tucson & Southern Arizona and Flagstaff & Northern Arizona, so you can remain close to home, work, and family.

Support Groups and Other Services

We know this is a difficult time, but you can do this--and the cancer care specialists at Arizona Oncology are ready to help you every step of the way. We’re here to answer questions and connect you with the resources you need. Visit our Treatment and Services page for more information.

For your convenience, Arizona Oncology treatment centers are located throughout the state, so you can be cared for in a supportive environment that’s close to home. Our office locations serve:

  • Phoenix Area including Arrowhead, Chandler, Deer Valley, East Valley, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe
  • Southern Arizona including Tucson and Green Valley
  • Northern Arizona including Flagstaff and Prescott Valley

After Skin Cancer Treatment

Following specific skin cancer treatments, it is possible that some type of follow up cancer treatments will be recommended to supplement and/or keep a close watch on your skin. Your Arizona Oncology cancer specialist team will inform you of what is recommended based on your unique skin cancer treatment plan.

Precautions for Skin Cancer Prevention

The sun shines nearly year around in Arizona. Skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure from the sun. And, even on cloudy days the ultraviolet rays can damage your skin. These are precautions anyone, regardless of skin color, should take to help prevent future skin cancers from developing.

  • Limit your time in the sun. Avoid being outdoors for long periods of time between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm when the UV exposure is highest.
  • Cover up with a clothing
    • There are swim shirts that offer SPF or UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) fabric in case your sunscreen lotion wears off.
    • Wear long sleeves.
    • If you don’t have a shirt that states that it offers sun protection, consider a darker colored or a brighter colored shirt that blocks more of the sun’s rays versus a light or white shirt.
  • Try to stay in the shade or bring shade with you i.e. a canopy.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat. Our scalps and ears are very susceptible to developing skin cancer over time.
  • Wear sunglasses. The area around our eyes and our actual eyes can develop cancer from sun exposure. Be sure your lenses block UV rays.
  • Use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher. Many people know to apply sunscreen but they simply don’t apply/reapply enough at the right time.
  • Apply 15 minutes prior to going outdoors.
  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen i.e. an ounce for adults.
  • Reapply every 1 ½ to 2 hours or after getting out of the water. Try to dry off if you’re exceptionally wet before applying sunscreen, otherwise it will simply run off your skin rather than soak into wet skin.
  • Use SPF lip balm. Our lips are covered in skin and can develop cancer too!
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps at all costs.

Early detection is the best way to make sure that skin cancer can be treated with success. Be mindful of any changes you see on your body. If any moles or patches of skin look abnormal, talk with your doctor about having a skin test. Check your skin every month for changes. Use a mirror or have someone help you assess areas you can’t see easily i.e. scalp, back, neck. For people with darker skin tones, skin cancer can develop on the palms of hands, soles of feet and underneath nails.

Arizona Oncology - The US Oncology Network