Not all symptoms are caused by cancer. Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.
Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests and what they involve.
What you need to know
Reasons for tests
Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.
If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.
Tests for melanoma
The first test used to diagnose melanoma is a physical examination, where the doctor checks for any changes to your skin and identifies any spots or moles they are concerned about.
The doctor may examine any changes with a dermoscope (special magnifying instrument), take photographs and measure the mole.
Biopsies for melanoma
If there are any suspicious spots or moles your doctor will do an excisional biopsy. This is usually done in the doctor’s office using a local anaesthetic. You may need stitches to close the wound. This may be done by your GP or by a specialist.
The excisional biopsy is sent to a pathologist who examines the tissue under a microscope to look for any abnormal cells.
If the biopsy shows melanoma you may need further tests to see if the melanoma has spread.
Sentinel node biopsy
Sentinel node biopsy is a test that is used to see if the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes. This is done by the injection of a radioactive blue tracer dye around where the mole was. The dye will travel to nearby lymph nodes that can be removed and examined.
Mutation testing for melanoma
A sample of the melanoma may be tested for gene mutations. These occur in about 70% of melanomas. The most common is the BRAF mutation.
Having a melanoma with a gene mutation can affect your treatment options, as some of them can be treated with targeted therapies.
What to ask or talk about
Preparing for tests
Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.
Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.
Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.
Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.
Getting test results
It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results.
Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.
It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.