Being diagnosed with melanoma

If your GP thinks you may have melanoma, they should refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist).

The specialist will examine the mole and the rest of your skin. They may use an instrument called a dermatoscope to get a clearer picture of the mole. They will ask you questions about how the mole has changed.

If your specialist thinks you have a melanoma, they will advise you to have the whole mole removed. This is called an excision biopsy. You can ask the doctor or your specialist nurse any questions you may have about this.

Before the procedure, your doctor will explain what will happen. You will need to sign a consent form. You will have a local anaesthetic and should not feel any pain during the biopsy.

The removed mole is examined by a pathologist to see if any melanoma cells are present. Waiting for these test results can be difficult. You may want to talk to someone close to you or one of our cancer support specialists.

How melanoma is diagnosed

Usually your GP will examine you first. If they think you may have a melanoma, they should refer you to a doctor with specialist training in diagnosing skin conditions (a dermatologist).

Seeing a specialist

If you have a suspected melanoma, you should be seen within a couple of weeks by a dermatologist. Your appointment will probably be at a skin clinic or at a pigmented lesion clinic (a special clinic for diagnosing melanomas early). Some people may see a plastic surgeon rather than a dermatologist. They are also experienced in melanoma.

The specialist will examine your mole and ask you questions about how long you’ve had it and any changes you’ve noticed. They usually also examine the rest of your skin to see if you have any other unusual moles.

Some specialists may look at your moles with a small, hand-held instrument called a dermatoscope. This gives a bigger and clearer picture of the mole. Your specialist will know a lot from looking at your mole. Knowing whether the mole has changed over time and how is also important. If they think you may have a melanoma, they will advise you to have the whole mole removed. They may also take pictures (with your permission) of other moles that you have so they can check whether they change. You may see a specialist skin cancer nurse, who will give you information and support.

Having your mole removed

Your doctor will need to remove your mole to find out what it is. This is known as an excision biopsy.

Before it’s removed, your doctor will explain the procedure to you. You will have a small scar afterwards. You will be asked to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the mole to be removed.

Once you’re lying down comfortably, your doctor will inject a local anaesthetic into the area around the mole. This will numb the area so you don’t feel any pain. They’ll cut out the whole mole and 2mm of normal skin around it. Your doctor will close the wound using stitches. These will be removed after 5–14 days, depending on where the mole was. Some people may have stitches that dissolve, which don’t need to be removed.

The mole is then examined under the microscope by a pathologist (an expert in cells) to see if any melanoma cells are present.

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.

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