When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it can feel overwhelming. This phase involves finding out if your child has cancer, and determining the type of cancer they have. Children’s cancer can be difficult to diagnose, as many symptoms are similar to those caused by less serious conditions, or injuries. This means that your child may need several tests and medical appointments before you receive confirmation that your child has cancer.

If your doctor thinks your child has melanoma , you child will have several tests, including:

  • medical history and physical exam
  • medical imaging, such as
    • X-ray
    • computed tomography (CT) scan
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • biopsy, with tests to help find the best way to treat your child
  • lymph node biopsy, also known as a therapeutic lymph node dissection.

Our section, How is cancer diagnosed? explains these tests in more detail.



Doctors use staging to describe how much the cancer has grown. Some of the tests for melanoma will also help to stage the tumour. Staging determines:

  • where the tumour is
  • how big the tumour is
  • what nearby organs it affects
  • if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Your doctor will use this information to determine the best way to treat the disease. Staging will also give your doctor an idea of how well these treatments are likely to work (prognosis). How doctors assess the stage and extent of disease varies. They often describe melanoma in the following stages:

  • Stage 0 (melanoma in situ) – doctors find abnormal melanocytes in the skin’s outer layer (epidermis), which have not spread to other layers of the skin.
  • Stage I – the tumour is small. It may or may not be ulcerated (broken on the surface).
  • Stage II – the tumour is larger. It may or may not be ulcerated.
  • Stage III – the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, lymph vessels or skin.
  • Stage IV – the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. These can include the lungs, liver, brain or bone.