If the diagnosis is melanoma, the doctor needs to learn the extent, or stage, of the disease before planning treatment. Staging is a careful attempt to learn how thick the tumor is, how deeply the melanoma has invaded the skin, and whether melanoma cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
The doctor may remove nearby lymph nodes to check for cancer cells. (Such surgery may be considered part of the melanoma treatment because removing cancerous lymph nodes may help control the disease.)
The doctor also does a careful physical exam and, if the tumor is thick, may order chest X-rays, blood tests, and scans of the liver, bones, and brain.
The following stages are used for melanoma: