If while using our service to map your moles, we detect a change, its recommended you go to a clinic to get it checked with your doctor right away.
While its true that all melanomas change, not all moles that change are melanomas, which is why you need to see a doctor to check.
The doctor may say its fine, but what happens if they are concerned? Here’s our step-by-step guide, based on information from Aim at Melanoma, on what to expect if your doctor suspects a melanoma.
The diagnostic path begins when you, your doctor, or our service identifies a suspicious looking mole or spot.
Depending on which clinic you go to, you might see general practitioner or family doctor first. They may then refer you to a dermatologist to get an expert opinion. The dermatologist will check the mole again and if worried, take a biopsy to send to the laboratory.
A biopsy is a sample of the skin lesion which removes enough tissue to make an accurate diagnosis. If possible, the whole lesion will be removed, along with 1 mm to 2 mm of surrounding skin. If that’s not possible, the thickest part is removed. When taking the sample the dermatologist will anaesthetise the area so you don’t feel any pain.
From the biopsy the laboratory can make a definitive diagnosis. If the lesion is a skin cancer, the report by the pathology laboratory gives further details on the type, the stage, the prognosis, and recommended treatments.
The report can include:
- Breslow Depth: a measure of the thickness of the cancer
- Presence of ulceration
- The mitotic rate: how fast the cancer is growing
- Whether there is cancer at the edges of the biopsy
- Genetic profile: for targeted drug therapy
- Clark Level: for a lesion less than or equal to 1mm.
All this information is put together to give a cancer stage, which can help doctors predict the outcome and the treatment options available.
Getting a diagnosis is very difficult, and its often good to bring someone with you to the doctor. It can be hard to remember information when you are upset, and the doctor should be understanding of this.
The next stage is for the doctor (an oncologist or dermatologist) to take a full personal history and examination. They will ask questions on your family history of skin cancer, and examine your skin and lymph nodes, particularly near the melanoma. They’ll then create a treatment plan for you, which may involve surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy depending on the stage of the cancer.
The earlier a melanoma is detected, the easier the surgery and the better the outcome, so its essential to keep checking your skin and monitoring your moles for change.