How is it diagnosed?

The initial diagnosis is often achieved clinically – in a doctor’s office – after patients notice a new mole on their skin or a change to an existing mole.

Initial Diagnosis

 If you see a strange new mole on your skin or an old mole that’s started changing be sure to see your doctor right away, because an early diagnosis makes a big difference in your outcome. Find out what to look for and how to do a self examination in the Preventing Melanoma area of this site.

Your doctor will do a physical examination to check all parts of your skin including your hands and feet, inside you mouth and nose and your scalp. They might use a magnifying instrument called a dermoscope to refine their diagnosis. If they find something they’re uncertain about you might be referred to a dermatologist. But if they find something suspicious they’ll recommend you have a biopsy.


The ideal biopsy method is an excision biopsy, but in some cases other biopsy techniques may be used.

An excision biopsy is a quick and simple procedure that can be done by your GP, dermatologist or a surgeon. You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area. Then your doctor will use a scalpel to remove the mole and some surrounding tissue. The wound will probably be closed with a couple stitches. The sample will be sent to pathology.

An excision biopsy


A pathologist will look at your tissue under a microscope to see if it contains any cancer cells. The results will be ready in about a week. You will likely have a follow-up appointment for you and your doctor to look at and discuss the results. Waiting for your pathology results to come back can be a very anxious time. Talking about your concerns with friends and family will help.

If cancer cells are found the next step is to stage the melanoma to see if the cancer cells have spread. This may include taking more tissue.

Download a detailed brochure about pathology (PDF)

Skin cells viewed under a microscope