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Patient Education

What is Dermatopathology?

Dermatopathologists are highly trained physicians who examine tissue specimens under a microscope, use the medical information your doctor shares, and consult with them as necessary. This personal service and collaboration between your doctor and our dermatopathologists help ensure the most precise, conclusive diagnosis.

Dermatopathology is a specialized field of pathology that focuses on studying skin diseases at a microscopic level. It involves the examination of skin tissue samples to diagnose and understand the causes and mechanisms of various skin conditions.

Dermatopathologists are highly trained physicians who have completed additional training in dermatology and pathology. They work closely with dermatologists, general pathologists, and other medical professionals to diagnose skin diseases accurately.

Skin diseases are diverse and range from common conditions like eczema and psoriasis to rare and life-threatening disorders like melanoma. A dermatopathologist carefully examines skin biopsies under a microscope to identify abnormal changes in the skin's structure or cell composition. This information is then used to determine the underlying cause of the skin disease and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Dermatopathology is essential for diagnosing and treating skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Dermatopathologists use specialized techniques to evaluate skin biopsies for signs of cancer, such as abnormal cell growth and skin structure changes. Early skin cancer detection is crucial for successful treatment and improved patient outcomes.

In addition to diagnosing skin diseases, dermatopathology also plays a vital role in research and the development of new treatments for skin conditions. Dermatopathologists conduct extensive studies on the causes and mechanisms of skin diseases to identify new targets for drug development and improve current therapies.

Overall, dermatopathology is a critical field that provides valuable insights into the nature and treatment of skin diseases. It helps improve patient outcomes and advance the understanding of skin health and disease and disorders.

Why Cockerell Dermatopathology?

In today’s ever-changing healthcare environment, patients are gaining more control over their healthcare choices. These new-found healthcare freedoms are great for patients however can often lead to confusing internet research and tough choices. When it comes to diagnosing skin, hair and nail disorders, Clay J. Cockerell, MD has personally diagnosed over two million specimens and annually renders over 5,000 expert consultations for other pathologists.  Dr. Cockerell and his team of dermatopathologists conduct daily internal case reviews, which allow multiple dermatopathologists to review difficult cases. You, the patient, have a choice when it comes to who you want to diagnose your specimen. Demand that it be sent to Cockerell Dermatopathology.

What are Special Stains and Why are They Used?

When a specimen is sent to Cockerell Dermatopathology, nearly all routine cases undergo staining with a H & E (haematoxylin and eosin) stains.  These stains are used to highlight the tiny cells which our dermatopathologists view when looking at your specimen under the microscope.  At Cockerell Dermatopathology, our board-certified dermatopathologists are able to render a definitive diagnosis on approximately 96% of all cases just using H&E stains.  For the other ~4% of the cases, additional stains are used to assist in rendering a diagnosis.  For example, a PAS stain is commonly used to identify a fungal skin infection such as ringworm or a nail fungus.  Cockerell Dermatopathology has one of the lowest additional stain rates in the entire laboratory industry.  Because of our collective experience and expertise, we only use additional stains as a diagnostic tool where less experienced pathologists often use additional stains as a crutch.  Why is this important for you to know?  In today's world of skyrocketing healthcare expenses, Cockerell Dermatopathology remains committed to delivering a world-class diagnosis at a fair price.  By keeping our stain rate as low as possible, your bill for pathology services is kept as low as possible also.  Our practice mission is to treat every specimen as it if came from one of our own family members and we closely follows our mission statement.

Skin Cancer Awareness

Cockerell Dermatopathology diagnoses tens of thousands of skin cancer every year. If you would like more information on some of the most common forms of skin cancer, we have put together some educational resources and information below on how to check yourself. If you notice any changes in your skin, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

More than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Of these cases, it is estimated about 132,000 will be melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which claims an estimated 9,200 lives annually. The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98%. The mission of the American Academy of Dermatology's SPOT Skin Cancer is to increase the public’s understanding of skin cancer and motivate positive behavior changes to reduce the incidence of and mortality from skin cancer.

American Academy of Dermatology | Spot Skin Cancer

How to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant, sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin. Broad-spectrum provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, when possible.

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.

  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you've been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product but continue to use a sunscreen with it.

How to perform a monthly skin exam.

Monthly Self Examination

You can also help protect yourself by examining your own skin once a month. It is often difficult to diagnose skin cancer just by appearance. This is why it’s so important for you to check your own skin and notify your doctor of anything you find. Examine yourself from head to toe, using a mirror when necessary. Look for any changes to existing moles and freckles, sores that take more than 3 weeks to heal, spots that hurt or itch continuously, growths that have increased in size or are larger than a pencil eraser, irregular outlines or changes in color or texture. If you note any changes in your skin, see your dermatologist.

Image credit: courtesy of the American Academy of Dermatology

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