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Dr. Mayzik
Early diagnosis of melanoma is crucial to successful treatment. The survival rate of melanoma is much higher when it’s diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Dr. Patel, can you tell us about how melanoma is diagnosed?

Dr. Patel
Definitely, Dr. Mayzik. In order to diagnose any type of skin cancer, providers generally begin with a medical and family history and a physical examination. A thorough skin exam may include a test called dermoscopy, which utilizes a lighted magnifying instrument to see suspicious areas of the skin more clearly.

One or more skin biopsy procedures may be recommended, depending on the size, location, and type of tumor suspected. When melanoma is suspected, the initial biopsy will be conducted with a narrow margin to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. In the event that the biopsy is positive for melanoma, the site will usually be re-excised with an appropriate margin, determined by the depth of the lesion.

The provider may also examine the lymph nodes under the skin near the suspicious area. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, they will feel larger and firmer than normal. A lymph node biopsy may also be recommended. In some cases, a lymph node biopsy is recommended based solely on the depth of the tumor.

Blood tests and imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be used in some cases as well, especially if it’s thought that melanoma has spread to surrounding tissues or other, more distant parts of the body.

If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your risk of developing more skin cancers in the future is higher. Regular follow-up for skin cancer patients is very important to catch cancers early.

Your frequency of skin exams should be determined by your dermatologist, but at a minimum should be annual.