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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.