Your child will have a number of tests to investigate their symptoms and confirm a diagnosis of melanoma, including:
- medical history and physical examination
- medical imaging, which may include
- computed tomography (CT) scan
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- biopsy – where a small sample of the cancer is removed to be examined under a microscope. The sample can also be tested for genetic changes that can help determine the best type of treatment for your child
- lymph node biopsy – where one or more lymph nodes near the tumour are removed and examined under a microscope to see if the cancer has spread. This is known as a therapeutic lymph node dissection.
These tests are explained in more detail in How is cancer diagnosed?.
If your child is diagnosed with melanoma, some of the diagnostic tests will also help to stage the tumour. Staging determines where the tumour is, how big it is, which nearby organs are involved and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This is important to determine the outlook (prognosis) for your child, and to decide on the best options for treatment.
There are different ways to assess the stage and extent of disease. One of the most common ways of describing stages for melanoma is as follows:
- Stage 0 (melanoma in situ) – abnormal melanocytes are found in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) but have not spread to other layers of the skin.
- Stage I – the tumour is small, and may or may not be ulcerated (i.e. broken on the surface).
- Stage II – the tumour is larger, and 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 such as the lungs, liver, brain or bone.