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PET Scan Can Find Melanoma Early

The earlier that your melanoma is found, the better the chances for your successful treatment.

Malignant melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer, with 3,900 new cases expected to be diagnosed in Canada this year. Its incidence is rapidly increasing throughout the world at a faster rate than any other tumour type. This is due to an increase in exposure to the sun. Early diagnosis is the most important survival factor. Usually, it depends on visual surveillance. Once identified, a suspected lesion is biopsied and, if found to be melanoma, surgically removed--often with surrounding lymph nodes. The high mortality of melanoma is because it spreads quickly through the lymphatic and blood systems. This method of metastasizing also makes it very difficult to monitor recurrence.

Diagnostic tests for staging include chest x-ray and liver function tests. Other tests are used only when signs or symptoms warrant. Sentinel node biopsy is becoming an increasingly common procedure since melanoma usually metastasizes to regional lymph nodes before dissemination.

How a PET scan can make a difference with Melanoma:

Accurate Staging / Re-staging:

  • A whole body PET scan is clearly the best method for accurately staging patients with suspected melanoma. Multiple diagnostic tests would be necessary with other technologies since they can only screen limited body areas in a single test and rely on strict size criteria or distortions of anatomy.

Evaluate Cancer Therapy:

  • As with other types of cancer, a PET scan often changes the diagnostic evaluation and therapeutic management of patients with melanoma.

Monitor Cancer Recurrence:

  • PET scan shows recurrence of melanoma post therapy. Finding recurrent melanoma early prolongs your life and increases your chances of beating the disease.

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Melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages. But it is also likely to spread to other parts of the body.

CareImaging PET Scan Clinic is committed to using the power of PET scan technology to find melanoma early and therefore improve melanoma treatment results and save Canadian lives.

Melanoma Diagnosis

Melanoma can be found early. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer. You should know the pattern of moles, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you'll notice any changes.

A normal mole is generally an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape, and color for many years, and it may eventually fade away. However, you should see a doctor right away when a mole changes its appearance (size, shape, or color) or if the following occurs:

  • One half of the mole does not match the other half
  • The edges are ragged or notched
  • The mole is not the same color all over, with shades of tan, brown, or black, or sometimes patches of red, blue, or white

Early diagnosis of melanoma is the most important survival factor. Usually, it depends first on finding the lesion visually. Visible screening and early testing are so important. Call your physician if you have any a skin blemish that you are concerned about, or visit your own physician to discuss your concerns.

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When malignant melanoma is found, a PET scan can help.

Call CareImaging today at 905-712-9500 or email us at for more information on the benefits of a PET scan or to schedule a PET scan.

Melanoma Further Testing

If you have a suspicious mole, you will need to have further tests to find out if it is malignant. To find out if it is cancerous, you will need to have a biopsy procedure. The doctor will take some of the cells from the mole and have them examined under a microscope. If the mole turns out to be a melanoma, you may need additional testing.

Although many melanomas are completely cured, some spread so quickly that the cancer could have spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, brain, or other places while the original skin melanoma is still small. Melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body may not be found until long after the first melanoma was removed from the skin.

A PET scan can accurately detect melanoma skin cancer and determine whether it may have spread. The high mortality rate among those with melanoma occurs because melanoma-type cancers spread quickly (metastasize) through the lymphatic and blood systems. This metastasizing also makes it very difficult to monitor recurrence of melanoma.

PET is not always useful in examining non-melanoma types of skin cancer (because of the growth rates and patterns of those cancers), but PET is an extremely important test to be done right after you are diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

Melanoma Staging

Before melanoma treatment, your doctors must determine whether you have melanoma and if so, how much the melanoma might have spread. This is called staging the cancer.

Staging reflects how thick the tumour is, its overall size and whether it has spread to other organs. This is very important because the treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend on the stage of the cancer. Early-stage malignant melanoma can be cured. If the cancer has spread to other organs, however, it is rarely curable, once again highlighting the importance of early detection.

Once identified, a suspected lesion is biopsied. If it is found to be melanoma, it will be surgically removed -- often with the surrounding lymph nodes. A number of diagnostic tests may be performed, including a PET scan and a sentinel node biopsy.

PET is the most useful test that you can have when doctors are staging or re-staging metastatic melanoma because it is more sensitive than CT scans or any other type of test in seeing the small deposits of metastatic tumour.

Melanoma Follow Up

Even when a melanoma has been removed and is considered cured, you will need follow-up exams to determine whether the cancer has come back. You should check your own skin and contact your doctor if you find any lumps. Report any new symptoms to your doctor, such as pain, cough, tiredness, or unexplained, sudden weight loss. In addition, you should see your doctor on a regular basis to be checked for lymph node swelling and to have a general physical exam. Sometimes, your doctor may order blood tests or imaging exams to check for recurrence of the cancer.

PET imaging is an important, powerful tool in looking for the return of the cancer. Before PET, it was extremely difficult to monitor patients for recurrence of the melanoma: capturing images of the whole body required multiple CT scans, and multiple CT scans still could not identify recurrent cancer as sensitively as PET now can. Early detection of a recurrent melanoma is crucial in treating and/or removing the cancer.

If the melanoma returns, the PET scan will find it because the tumour cells will pick up the radioactive glucose. PET can also be used to image the response of the tumour to therapy and to detect the recurrence of cancer in previously treated lesions. After surgery and other treatments, PET is and extremely important tool your physician can use to monitor your body for the possible return of cancer cells.

Call CareImaging today at 905-712-9500 or email us at for more information on the benefits of a PET scan or to schedule a PET scan.

More Information About Skin Cancer:

Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
Canadian Cancer Resources Directory

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Melanoma PET Package
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