Melanoma Diagnosis

Melanoma is one of the most metabolically active tumors. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer. A normal mole is generally an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape, and color for many years until it may eventually fade away.

Consult a doctor right away when a mole changes its appearance in size, shape, or color or when:

  • One half of the mole does not match the other half
  • The edges are ragged or notched
  • The color of the mole is not the same all over, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue, or white

Early diagnosis is the most important survival factor. Usually, it depends first on finding the lesion visually. Visible screening and early testing are so important. Melanoma is curable when diagnosed early, when it is thin and can be removed from the skin by surgery. Unfortunately, the thicker melanomas are more likely to metastasize to regional lymph nodes and then spread systemically. The high mortality rate of melanoma is because it spreads quickly through the lymphatic and blood systems.

Although many early melanomas are curable by surgery, others spread so quickly that there could be other tumors in the lymph nodes, lungs, brain, or other locations, even if the original skin melanoma is still small. Melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body may not be found until long after the first melanoma has been removed from the skin.

A suspicious mole requires further tests to find out if it is cancerous. The doctor will perform a biopsy and examine some of the cells under a microscope.

Early diagnosis is the most important survival factor.

Source: American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2011. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2011