Clinical diagnosis is made with visual appearance or with the aid of a dermatoscope. The ABCD guideline is helpful for identifying dysplastic nevus and melanoma. Clinical diagnosis can only be confirmed with a skin biopsy. Most skin biopsies are done under local anesthetic with an injection. A shave biopsy is good for diagnosing basal cell carcinoma, while not as well for squamous cell carcinoma. A punch biopsy is preferred for diagnosing squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma over the shave biopsy technique. Excisional biopsy (where the entire lesion is removed down to the deep dermis and subcutanous fat) is the method of choice for diagnosing melanomas. However, for cosmetic reason and practical reasons, a punch biopsy is often used to initially diagnose many large melanomas or melanomas of cosmetically important anatomic locations (nose, face, eyelids, nails, fingers and toes).
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