Skin Cancer: Tests


Standard Tests

Physical examination

A physical examination should include examining the patients's skin for lesions.

Image Guided Biopsy

This procedure is used when a distinct lump cannot be felt. It can be done with a fine needle aspiration biopsy (which uses a small needle to remove the tissue sample), stereotactic core biopsy (which uses x-rays to find the area of tissue to be removed) or a vacuum-assisted biopsy (which uses a thicker needle to remove multiple large cores of tissue). During this procedure, a needle is guided to the area of concern with the help of mammography, ultrasound or an MRI. A small metal clip may be put into the breast to mark the site of biopsy, in case the sample tissue proves cancerous and additional surgery is required. An advantage of this technique is that a patient may only need one operation for treatment or staging.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

This type of biopsy is a surgical procedure that is used to determine if cancer cells have spread to the regional lymph nodes


An x-ray is a picture of the inside of the body.

Blood Tests

The patient’s blood may be tested to help determine if the cancer has spread.

Additional Tests

Occasionally, the following tests may be performed to diagnose melanoma and/or help determine the extent of the disease.


An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal parts of the body, including collections of lymph nodes (called basins) and soft tissue.

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT) Scan

A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI uses magnetic fields instead of x-rays to produce detailed images of the body.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

In a PET scan, radioactive sugar molecules are injected into the body. Cancer cells usually absorb sugar more quickly than normal cells, so they may light up on the PET scan. PET scans are often used to complement information gathered from CT scan, MRI and physical examination.