Early and accurate diagnosis is essential to melanoma care and successful treatment. At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, we use the latest state-of-the-art technologies to diagnose and stage melanoma. In doing so, we can determine whether the cancer has spread and identify the most effective treatment for you.
If you have signs or symptoms of melanoma, your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your health, lifestyle and family history. If melanoma is suspected, a biopsy will be done.
Skin cancer cannot be diagnosed through observation alone. If a mole or pigmented area of the skin changes or looks abnormal, a tissue sample will be taken through biopsy for a pathologist to examine. Suspicious areas should not simply be shaved off or cauterized (destroyed with a hot instrument, an electrical current or a caustic substance). Rather, a biopsy should be performed first to determine if the area is malignant.
Your doctor may use one of the following biopsy methods:
If your skin usually scars when injured, the biopsy may leave a scar. For this reason, a biopsy on the face might be better performed by a surgeon or dermatologist who specializes in methods that minimize scarring.
Because melanoma can be difficult to diagnose, you should consider having your biopsy checked by a second pathologist. Testing for specific mutations on the tissue might be obtained by your doctor.
After melanoma has been diagnosed, imaging tests can help determine whether cancer cells have spread within the skin or to other parts of the body. This may include such tests as: