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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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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 he thinks you may have skin cancer, you'll need a biopsy to find out.

You usually get one of two types:

  • Punch biopsy. This removes a round piece of skin.
  • Excisional biopsy. Your doctor takes out 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.

If you've been diagnosed with melanoma, you may also have a blood test and an imaging test to see if it has spread to other areas.

There are different types of imaging tests:

  • Chest X-ray. This uses radiation in low doses to make pictures of the inside of your body.
  • CT scan (computerized tomography). It uses powerful X-rays so your doctor can get a detailed look at what's going on inside you.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body. It 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 uses a thin needle to remove a sample of cells. This is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.

The doctor may also do a sentinel node biopsy. This removes the lymph nodes most likely to have cancer cells. In this test, the doctor injects a dye into the area where the potential cancer was. It 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 your cancer and how widespread it is.

You and he will decide on the best treatment plan once you know that information.

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