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Metastatic Melanoma

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Getting a Diagnosis continued...

If you haven’t already been diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will do a skin exam. If the doctor thinks you may have skin cancer, you will need a biopsy to find out.

Doctors usually use one of two types of biopsies: a punch biopsy, which removes a round piece of skin, or an excisional biopsy, which removes the entire growth. A doctor will look at the growth under a microscope to see how thick it is. Usually, a thicker tumor means the cancer is more serious.

You may also have a blood test, and an imaging test to see if the melanoma has spread to other areas. There are different types of imaging tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan. This gives the doctor an image of what's going on inside your body.
  • MRI. This one helps show blood flow and can help locate cancer growths.
  • PET scan. This test uses radioactive material to look for signs of cancer.

The doctor will also check to see if your lymph nodes are enlarged. Lymph nodes are bean-sized glands under the skin in your neck, underarms, and groin. The doctor will use a thin needle to remove a sample of cells. This is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.

The doctor may also do another type of biopsy, called a sentinel node biopsy. This removes the lymph nodes most likely to have cancer cells.

In this test, the doctor then injects a dye into the area where the potential cancer was. The dye spreads to the nearest lymph nodes, which are removed and tested. If these lymph nodes, called sentinel nodes, don't have cancer, then it's likely the cancer hasn't spread.

The results of these tests help the doctor determine the stage of the cancer and how widespread it is. You and your doctor will decide on the best treatment plan once you know that information.

Questions for Your Doctor

  • Should I have other tests before we decide on a treatment?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • What is involved in these treatments? How will I feel?
  • Will I have scars?
  • Will I be able to work while I am having the treatment?
  • What happens if the treatment doesn’t help?
  • Can I take part in clinical trials?
  • Do you have experience treating metastatic melanoma?
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