Melanoma may be first detected during a skin self-exam or during an exam by a professional, such as a dermatologist. However, the only way to confirm if a suspicious area is melanoma is by biopsy, in which part or all of the suspicious growth is removed and analyzed by a pathologist. Biopsies may be performed by various techniques:

  • Punch biopsy obtains a sample of skin via a circular blade.
  • Shave biopsy removes the first few layers of skin for analysis.
  • Excisional biopsy removes the entire growth, along with a small amount of surrounding skin.
  • Incisional biopsy takes only the part of the growth that looks the most suspicious.

If it appears that melanoma has spread, other techniques, such as fine needle aspiration or image-guided biopsy, may be needed.

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