By Shannon Traphagen

Learning you have melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer, can make it difficult to hear anything else your doctor says. Upon leaving the office, you may wonder what happens next, which is of course, dependent upon the unique needs of each patient.

However, if you have already been diagnosed with melanoma, your physician or dermatologist has already performed a biopsy, which involves removing part (or all) of a suspicious spot. Once removed, it is examined under a microscope to determine the presence of cancer cells. This is currently the only way to tell if someone has skin cancer.

Once a diagnosis of melanoma is made, the next steps usually involve further testing, such as a PET, CT, and MRI imaging, and a blood test to help determine spread and staging. According to expert radiologists at Southtowns Radiology, the five-year survival rate for melanoma when found early, is around 97 percent. As a result, it is important to make an appointment with your physician for any suspicious signs of skin cancer.

“Medical imaging is vital to detecting skin cancers,” according to Southtowns Radiology. When we see patients, they are unsure of what happens next, so do everything possible to communicate with them clearly as to what happens next.”

PET/CT is a scan used by Southtowns radiologists that combines positron emission tomography and computerized tomography to determine whether a patient’s melanoma has spread. This involves injecting a small amount of radioactive sugar which travels through the patient’s body. The imaging is conducted after 60-90 minutes has elapsed. If the imaging reveals areas of increased metabolic activity it is an indication that cancer is present. This information, used in combination with CT images, which provides detail for the organs and bones in surrounding areas, allows a radiologist to see if melanoma has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.

PET/CT can also be used to determine if a second primary melanoma is present, potentially in a hidden area, such as the scalp, that could have escaped detection despite a thorough an initial physical exam. Additionally, some melanoma patients may require ongoing PET/CT scans to ensure that a localized tumor has not spread farther, and if the therapy is working properly. A whole-body PET/CT scan serves as a single head-to-toe exam that can search the entire body to determine if the cancer has spread or recurred.

Southtowns Radiology wants patients to know that when they come to one of their offices, they are being cared for with leadership, excellence, and compassion, as they work with their referring physicians to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive treatment plan.

Southtowns Radiology offers imaging and testing appointments at all three locations. Most appointments take 90 minutes and results are delivered to the ordering healthcare provider within 48 hours. If you’d like to learn more call 716.649.9000.