NCCN Guidelines for Patients
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Part 2: Overview of cancer tests
who’s an expert in diseases
of the skin
An organ that
removes waste from the
groups of special disease-
fighting cells located
throughout the body
that increases the chance
of getting a disease
An organ to the
left of the stomach that
helps protect the body
2.1 General health tests
Your doctor may send you to a dermatologist if you have signs of cancer. Most
skin changes aren’t cancer, but sometimes only a dermatologist will know.
Common exams and tests used by dermatologists are described next.
Before and after cancer treatment, your doctor will assess your medical history.
Your medical history includes any health events in your life and any medications
you’ve taken. This information may affect which cancer treatment is best for you.
It may help to make a list of old and new medications while at home to bring to
your doctor’s office.
Your doctor will ask about any symptoms and medical conditions that you have
had. There will be specific questions about your skin and moles. Some health
problems, including melanoma, can run in families. Therefore, your doctor will
ask about the medical history of your immediate family and other risk factors
you have for melanoma. (Risk factors are discussed in Part 1.6.)
Physical and skin exam
Doctors usually perform a physical exam along with taking a medical history.
A physical exam is a review of your body for signs of disease. Your doctor will
carefully inspect your skin for abnormal-looking areas (lesions). This is called
a medical skin exam. Your doctor will note the size, shape, color, and texture
of any lesions. Your doctor will also feel for enlarged lymph nodes in the area
where the melanoma lesion is or was located. Unusual symptoms, such as
bleeding or scaling, may be other signs of cancer. Be sure to have skin exams
on a regular basis. A skin exam can be easily done at a routine doctor’s visit.
Besides your skin, other parts of your body may be examined to look for signs
of cancer. During this exam, your doctor may listen to your lungs, heart, and gut.
Parts of your body, such as your liver or spleen, may be felt to see if organs are
of normal size, are soft or hard, or cause pain when touched.