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Other Tests For Melanoma

Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and determine if it has metastasized (spread). Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. The doctor may order various tests to determine if or where the melanoma has spread.


Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:


  • Your age and medical condition

  • The type of cancer

  • Severity of symptoms

  • Previous test results


Some standard diagnostic tests:


  • Blood tests: No special blood tests are needed for localized melanoma and there are no reliable ones that can indicate specifically whether or not a melanoma has spread. Testing for elevated levels of LDH (serum lacate dehydrogenase), an enzyme found in the blood, may indicate the presence of metastatic disease.

  • Chest x-ray: It is taken to make sure melanoma has not spread to the lungs, the lymph nodes in the mediastinum (space in the chest between the lungs), or the bones of the rib cage.

  • Ultrasound: 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.

  • CT scan: A CT scan of the chest, head, abdomen, or pelvis, may be recommended if it is suspected that the melanoma has spread. A rotating x-ray beam takes a series of pictures of the body from many angles. A computer combines the information from all the pictures and makes a detailed, cross-sectional image of the body. Except for possible minor discomfort from the injection of intravenous dye to highlight certain tissues in the body that may otherwise be hard to see, this is a painless procedure.

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Like the CT scan, MRI is only used when it is suspected that the melanoma has spread. It may be recommended in place of a CT scan. The only difference is that the cross-sectional images of the body are created by magnetic fields instead of x-rays. MRI is particularly useful for looking at the brain, spinal cord, and examining specific areas in the bone. It may also be used if the results from other imaging tests are unclear or there is a concern about exposure to radiation.

  • PET scan (positron emission tomography): For a PET scan, radioactive glucose (a form of sugar) is injected into the body. Cancer cells usually absorb glucose more quickly than normal cells, so they may light up on the PET scan. However, since a number of normal body activities also use large amounts of glucose, false-positive results are fairly common and their results should be verified by other tests. Newer devices combine PET and CT scans.