Melanoma Tests

City of Hope’s team of internationally trained dermatologists and dermatopathologists use their clinical experience and expertise, and leading-edge technology, to provide you with the most accurate diagnosis — and the most effective treatment. This powerful combination of experience, technology and talent gives City of Hope its reputation for transforming melanoma patients with advanced disease and dire diagnoses into survivors.

How is Melanoma Diagnosed?

There are many subtypes of melanoma — the main four being superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma and lentigo maligna melanoma — as well as rarer conditions like spitzoid melanoma, nevoid melanoma, desmoplastic melanoma, uveal melanoma or ocular melanoma, andr mucosal melanoma. Correctly diagnosing the subtype of melanoma is crucial because each may require a different treatment.

Determining whether a growth is benign or cancerous is a subtle process, requiring a trained eye and deep experience. A skin exam is usually the first test to diagnose all skin cancer, as most melanomas in the skin can be seen by the naked eye. 

If an area on the skin looks abnormal, your doctor may order a skin biopsy, which involves removing tissue that appears abnormal and sending that tissue sample to a pathologist who can confirm if you have melanoma and what type and stage.

There are several types of skin biopsy:

  • Shave biopsy is used to remove the abnormal growth using a razor blade.
  • Punch biopsy utilizes a special round instrument to remove a circular tissue sample.
  • Incisional biopsy involves removing a section of abnormal growth.
  • Excisional biopsy involves removing all abnormal growth.

Usually, melanoma grows for a long time under the top layer of the skin without going into the deeper layer of skin. This allows time for skin cancer to be found early. Melanoma is easier to cure if it is found before it spreads. However, since screening has its risks, you may want to discuss them with your doctor before making a decision to be tested. 

Genetic Testing

Generally, a family history of melanoma appears to increase the risk of melanoma by about twofold. Tell your doctor if you have a personal history of melanoma and dysplastic nevi, or a family history of melanoma and other cancers.

Our specially trained dermatopathologist can perform wide-ranging molecular testing of most melanoma subtypes. Our molecular pathologists may also do testing for specific mutations — such as BRAF and KIT — leading to more specific and individualized treatment options.