Getting a Diagnosis continued...
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?
Although metastatic melanoma is not easy to treat, you do have options. Choosing what's right for you will depend on where and how big the cancer is, what your health is like, and what your wishes are. Since most cases of metastatic melanoma can't be cured, the goals of treatment are to:
- Shrink or stop the growth of the cancer where it has spread.
- Stop the cancer from spreading to new areas.
- Make you more comfortable.
Treatment for metastatic melanoma used to be mainly radiation and chemotherapy. Now there are newer drugs available that studies show can work better. Your treatment may include:
Surgery. Your doctor may remove tumors or lymph glands. Although surgery alone probably won't cure the cancer, it can help you live longer and have fewer symptoms. Your doctor will likely also use one or more other treatments.
Radiation and chemotherapy. These can help some people, depending on the size and location of the cancer.