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Biopsy for melanoma

What is a biopsy?

During a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the body. A pathologist inspects the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. If the cells are found to be cancerous, a biopsy can help determine whether the cancer began at the site of the biopsy, or if it started somewhere else in the body and spread to the biopsy site.

Some biopsies are performed under image guidance, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This allows your doctor to collect cells from deeper inside the body. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you will receive an anesthetic to minimize any pain.

Biopsy medical animation

Video: Biopsy Medical Animation

Medical animation

Biopsy for melanoma

Potential melanomas are usually first examined visually. Your doctor or dermatologist may use a special microscope or magnifying lens to examine the suspicious spot more closely, a process called dermatoscopy. They may also take a digital or photographic image of the spot.

The next step is to remove a piece of the suspicious growth for examination by a laboratory, where they will look for cancerous cells. In many cases, your doctor will remove the whole growth. During this procedure, your doctor will numb the area before removing a tissue sample. There are several different biopsy methods, but an excisional biopsy in which the doctor removes the entire growth is generally preferred in cases where melanoma cancer is suspected.

If melanoma is diagnosed, your doctor may also perform some tests to determine whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the skin. The first place melanomas usually spread is to nearby lymph nodes, so your doctor may feel to see if any lymph nodes are enlarged. They may also take a biopsy of any suspicious lymph nodes. During surgery, your surgeon may perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy, in which they remove a lymph node close to the melanoma and send it to the lab for further examination.

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