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Diagnosis

Diagnosis

December 15, 2021
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For both nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma cancer, a biopsy is needed. Usually a dermatologist will use a shave biopsy, where a local anesthetic is applied to the skin and an instrument is used to scoop out most of it. Then, a pathologist will look at it under the microscope to determine if it’s cancer, and if so, how advanced it is. If it’s deep, an additional test will be needed to determine if it has spread beyond the initial area. For melanomas that are intermediate risk of having spread, a test called a sentinel lymph node biopsy will be conducted. In that biopsy, which is done under general anesthesia, only the lymph node that’s most likely to be involved is removed from the body to be tested. Usually, only intermediate stages of melanoma go through a sentinel lymph node biopsy, because really thin melanomas have a really good prognosis, while really deep melanomas have a bad prognosis and are usually treated the most aggressively. The deeper the melanoma, the more likely it is to have spread to other places in the body, called metastatic cancer.