Being diagnosed with melanoma

If your GP thinks you may have melanoma, they should refer you to a specialist in diagnosing skin conditions.

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 (permission) form. You will have a local anaesthetic and should not feel any pain during the biopsy.

A pathologist will examine the removed mole 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

Your GP will usually 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. This could be a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon. If they think it may be cancer, you should be seen at the hospital within two weeks.

Seeing a specialist

Your appointment will probably be at a skin clinic or a pigmented lesion clinic. This is a special clinic for diagnosing melanomas early.

The specialist will examine your mole. They will ask you questions about how long you have had it, and any changes you have noticed. They will usually take a photograph of the mole. They will often examine the rest of your skin to see if you have any other unusual moles, and may take photographs of them. This is so they can check whether the moles change over time.

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. It is also important that they know whether the mole has changed over time, and how it has changed.

If the specialist thinks you may have a melanoma, they will advise you to have the whole mole removed. You will normally have to come back for a second appointment for this to be done. You may see a specialist skin cancer nurse, who will give you information and support.

If it is not clear that your mole is a melanoma, your specialist will ask you to come back in a few months. At the second appointment, they can check if the mole has changed since it was photographed.

Having your mole removed

Your mole needs to be removed so that the doctor can find out what it is. This is known as an excision biopsy. You will have a small scar afterwards.

Before the mole is removed, your doctor will explain the procedure to you. You will be asked to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the mole to be removed.

Once you are lying down comfortably, the doctor or a specialist nurse will inject a local anaesthetic into the area around the mole. This will numb the area so you do not feel any pain. They will cut out the whole mole and 2mm of normal skin around it. The wound will be closed using stitches, which will be removed after 5 to 14 days, depending on where the mole was. Some people may have stitches that dissolve, which means they do not need to be removed.

The mole is then examined under a microscope 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 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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