Being diagnosed with advanced melanoma

If you’ve been treated for a melanoma before, you may be attending a clinic for check-ups. Your specialist or GP will arrange tests to investigate any new symptoms you have. The tests your doctor arranges will depend on your particular symptoms.

The most common place for melanoma cells to spread to is the lymph nodes, so your doctor will test them first. If those tests are positive, or if you have other symptoms of advanced melanoma, you may have one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerised tomography) scan – this uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of your body
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan – this uses magnetism to build up a picture of your body
  • Ultrasound scan – this uses sound waves to build up a picture of part of your body
  • Bone scan
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan – this uses low-dose radioactive sugar to measure the activity of cancer cells.

Waiting for your test results can be difficult. It can help to talk about your worries with someone close to you.

How advanced melanoma is diagnosed

If you’ve been treated for a melanoma before, you’ll probably be attending a clinic for check-ups. Your specialist or GP will arrange tests to investigate your new symptoms. The test(s) your doctor arranges will depend on your particular symptoms.


Tests to check your lymph nodes

If you are newly diagnosed with a primary melanoma, you will have tests to check whether the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes nearby or to other parts of the body. The most common place for melanoma cells to spread to is the lymph nodes closest to the original melanoma.

You can find out more about tests to check the lymph nodes.

If these tests are positive or if you have symptoms that suggest the melanoma has spread elsewhere, you may have some of the following tests:


Blood tests

You may have blood samples taken to check your general health and how well your liver and kidneys are working. Sometimes, doctors will use specific blood tests to diagnose and monitor your cancer. We have more detailed information about having a blood test.


Chest X-ray

This uses X-rays to take a picture of your chest, to check your lungs and heart.


CT scan

A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. You may be given either a drink or injection of dye. This is to make certain areas of the body show up more clearly. This scan takes around 30 minutes and is painless. We have more detailed information about having a CT scan.


MRI scan - what happens?

This test uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it's safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips, bone pins, etc. You should also tell your doctor if you've ever worked with metal or in the metal industry as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body it's likely that you won't be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation another type of scan can be used.

Before the scan, you'll be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which doesn't usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test you'll lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It's painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It's also noisy, but you'll be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.


Ultrasound scan

An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to build up a picture of internal organs. A gel is spread on the skin and a small device is then passed over the area. This test is painless. We have more detailed information about having an ultrasound scan.


Bone scan

This test finds any abnormal areas of bone. A mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein. A scan of your bones is taken two or- three hours later. We have more detailed information about having a bone scan.


PET scan

A PET scan measures the activity of cells in different parts of the body. It can be used to find out if a tumour is cancerous or non-cancerous, if it is growing and if it has spread to other parts of the body. We have more detailed information about having a PET scan.


Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.