Diagnosis Cancer

Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally diagnosed and treated in the same way. When an area of skin doesn't look normal, your doctor may remove all or part of the growth. This process is called a biopsy and it's the only sure way to detect cancer.

Doctors generally divide skin cancer into two stages — local, affecting only the skin, or metastatic, spreading beyond the skin.

Because skin cancer rarely spreads, a biopsy often is the only test needed to determine the stage. In cases where the growth is very large or has been present for a long time, your doctor will carefully check the lymph nodes in the area.

If your doctor is concerned your cancer may have spread to other parts of your body, you may need additional tests, such as special X-rays. Identifying the stage of skin cancer will help your doctor plan your treatment.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.