The diagnosis of melanoma involves the visually recognition of this characteristic tumor first. Here is what a melanoma looks like. Most of the tumors are located on the skin, so it is easy for a dermatologist to diagnose it. The average family doctor may not see enough cases and may be mis-diagnosing this tumor, which could be devastating. However, if the family doctor errs on the cautious side and removes all suspicious lesions and sends them to the pathologist for analysis, then there is a good probability that nothing is missed and the diagnosis is made accurately.
How is melanoma diagnosed?
The definite test for melanoma is a SKIN BIOPSY
to get a HISTOLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS.
There is a very small percentage of melanomas that occur on the mucosa of the oral cavity, in the genital region (genital mole), in rectal mucosa (rectal melanoma), in the bowel wall, in the lung (lung melanoma) and in the brain (melanoma of the brain). Tests are being developed where a monoclonal antibody against a group melanoma antigen is being tested as a simple blood test to screen for these hidden melanomas. It could be a few years before this is specific and sensitive enough and also affordable to be used as a mass screening test. Right now it is still in the research stages.
Without a skin biopsy the diagnosis can not be established. The treating physician needs to know whether it is melanoma and then, if it is, which of the four types it is. The pathologist’s report will tell the doctor what stage the tumor is in. This will determine whether or not any further therapy is necessary. After removal of the melanoma the histology will be done, which is the final word on what stage the tumor was in. There is no room for mistakes, so physicians have built in safeguards to verify the extent of the tumor.
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