If a mole looks suspicious, a physician will want to take a biopsy. The whole mole may be removed or, if it is too large, a sample is removed. Trained physicians (pathologist and/or dermatologist) examine the biopsy under a microscope and, if it is cancer, the melanoma is staged (a “grade” of how much it has progressed).

The treatment plan takes into account the location and thickness of the tumor, how deeply the tumor has invaded the skin, and whether the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Other tests may be ordered, such as chest x-rays, blood tests, and scans of the liver, bones, and brain.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease, the patient’s age and general health, and other factors. The usual treatment is surgery. The melanoma plus normal surrounding tissue are removed to help ensure that no cancer is left in the area. If a large area of skin needs to be removed, a skin graft may be done at the time of surgery, using skin from another area of the body to replace the removed tissue.

Lymph nodes may also be removed during surgery to determine if the cancer has spread. If the melanoma has spread, then further therapy, called adjuvant therapy, is given after surgery.

This may include chemotherapy (drugs used to kill cancer cells), biological therapy or immunotherapy (to help the immune system fight the cancer), or radiation therapy (usually used to kill cancer cells that have spread to the brain, bones, or other parts of the body).