To check for melanoma and whether or not it has spread, your doctor may:
- Do a physical exam of your skin.
- Do a skin biopsy. Your doctor will take a sample of your skin and have it tested for melanoma.
- Check your lymph nodes to see if they are larger than normal. This may be followed by a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see if the melanoma has spread to your lymph system.
- Use imaging tests to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, such as the lungs, brain, or liver. These tests include emission tomography (PET scan), computed tomography (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Other techniques may include total-body photography to look for changes in any mole and to watch for new moles appearing in normal skin. A series of photos of the suspicious lesions may be taken. Then the photos can be used as a baseline to compare with follow-up photos.
Finding skin cancer early
- Do a skin self-exam once a month. Your partner or a close friend can help you check places that are hard to see, such as your scalp and back.
- Have your doctor check any suspicious skin changes. Be sure you see your doctor at least once a year. You may need checkups more often if you have:
- Familial atypical mole and melanoma (FAM-M) syndrome, which is an inherited tendency to develop melanoma. Your doctor may need to check you every 4 to 6 months.
- Increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation because of your job, hobbies, or outdoor activities.
- Abnormal moles called atypical moles. These moles aren't cancerous. But their presence is a warning of an inherited tendency to develop melanoma.