Your Skin Lesion Biopsy Results: What do they Mean?by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate
In my last post we talked about what it is like to have an atypical mole removed. I have had three atypical moles removed which were considered precancerous (more likely to turn into melanoma than normal moles). Although most moles will never turn unto skin cancer, there is a strong correlation between dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) and melanoma. In a 1995 research study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology a nevus (mole) was associated with Melanoma in 51% of cases and of these, 56% were dysplastic moles. So it is good prevention to see your doctor or dermatologist if you find that you have a mole which changes in color or size, has irregular borders or bleeds. For a full description of how to identify an atypical mole please read my article entitled, "I have a Strange Looking Mole-Is it Skin Cancer?"
When you have a mole removed by your doctor or dermatologist the skin sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. It has been my experience to get the results back within a week. But you may want to ask your doctor how long the biopsy results will take before you leave their office. It can be very difficult to wait for test results, so if you do not hear back within the timeframe given by your doctor it is a good idea to call them back to ask.
The results that everyone hopes for is being told that you have a benign or non-cancerous mole. This means there are no cancer cells present in the mole removed and that it was surrounded by healthy skin tissue. Whenever I had a mole removed which was found to be benign, I was told by my dermatologist to protect that area from the sun and also to be aware if the mole comes back.
Other possible results from your skin lesion biopsy are that they find:
A fungal or bacterial skin infection
An inflammatory disease of the skin
Melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
Your doctor or dermatologist will most likely request that you come in to discuss your results if your biopsy shows anything other than a benign growth. If they find cancer cells in the mole they removed, the diagnosis of melanoma may be made. It can be emotionally devastating to hear the word "cancer" and you may feel shock. This is the reason that it may be a good idea to bring someone with you for your consultation so that they can absorb all the information given. During the time of this visit you may wish to request a copy of the pathology report. It is also a good idea to write your questions out ahead of time prior to your visit. This way you will not forget to ask any questions you may have of the doctor.
Here are some questions you may wish to ask during your consultation:
What is the stage of my cancer? This question is very important as it will determine what treatment will follow. Skin Cancer Connection provides you with details about each stage of melanoma as well as what further tests or treatments are usually recommended.
Was all the cancer removed during the biopsy or will this require more surgery?
Will I have to undergo more testing?
What treatment do you propose? What are the risks and/or success rates of this particular treatment?
Will I need to see any other doctors or specialists such as a plastic surgeon, cancer specialist, surgical oncologist or radiation therapist?
What is the possibility that the cancer may reoccur?
If I have more questions who can I call for more information?
Make sure that before you leave your doctor's office you get your questions answered and clear directives about what happens next. It will lessen your anxiety to understand the details about your skin cancer and your treatment options. Being an informed patient means that you are empowered to make the best decisions about your care. Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek further information about your condition.
For more information about Melanoma please visit our Melanoma Information section on Skin Cancer Connection.
Skender-Kalnenas D, Dallas R, Heenan J. Benign melanocytic lesions: Risk markers or precursors of cutaneous melanoma? Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1995; 33: 1000-1007.