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The only way to make a definitive diagnosis of melanoma is through a biopsy. During this procedure, the doctor will try to remove all of the suspicious-looking growth. If the growth is large, a sample of the tissue will be removed. Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor will need to learn the extent, or stage, of melanoma in order to plan the appropriate treatment.

How Is Melanoma Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects that a spot on the skin is melanoma, the person will need to have a biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to make a definite diagnosis. The doctor will try to remove all of the suspicious-looking growth. This is called an excisional biopsy. If the growth is too large to be removed entirely, the doctor will remove a sample of the tissue. The doctor will never "shave off" or cauterize a growth that might be melanoma.
 
A biopsy can usually be done in the doctor's office using local anesthesia. A pathologist (a doctor who studies diseases) will then examine the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Sometimes, it is helpful for more than one pathologist to check the tissue for cancer cells to confirm a diagnosis of melanoma.
 

Melanoma Diagnosis and Staging

If a diagnosis of melanoma is made, the doctor will need to learn the extent, or stage, of the disease before planning treatment. This is called staging. You can read more about melanoma staging by going to the full eMedTV article, Stages of Melanoma.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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