Melanoma (Skin Cancer) Screening & Diagnostics

Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer, but represents only 5% of these types of cancers. It originates in melanocytes, which produce skin pigment.  It may form on normal skin, or develop in a preexisting mole, and can spread to lymph nodes and other organs.

Rarely do melanomas appear in the mouth, iris of the eye, or retina at the back of the eye. However, in such cases, they may be found during routine dental or eye examinations. Although very rare, melanoma also can develop in the vagina, esophagus, anus, urinary tract, and small intestine. The vast majority of melanomas, however, are seen in sun-exposed areas of the skin.

There are a number of different risk factors for melanoma, including sun exposure and family history. The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people.

You are more likely to develop melanoma if you:

  • Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red or blond hair
  • Live in sunny climates or at high altitudes
  • Spent a lot of time in high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
  • Have had one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
  • Use tanning devices

Other risk factors include:

  • Close relatives with a history of melanoma
  • Certain types of moles (atypical dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication


A mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin can be a sign of melanoma or other skin cancer. A sore or growth that bleeds, or changes in skin coloring may also be a sign of skin cancer. The ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
  • Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
  • Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
  • Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter -- about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.

The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot if you don't look carefully. Have yearly body checks by a dermatologist, and examine your skin once a month. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

Learn more about Melanoma causes and symptoms.

The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot if you don't look carefully. Have yearly body checks by a dermatologist and examine your skin once a month. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual. 

Community Skin Cancer Screenings

Throughout the year, Northside hosts skin cancer screenings for the community. Screenings take place in a private setting and consist of a brief skin assessment by a medical professional. Typically, only exposed areas such as your arms, hands, neck and feet will be examined. Recommended screening attire: Shorts and T-shirt. Screenings are open to adults and children. 

Skin cancer screenings are not intended to take the place of comprehensive skin exams. For a more in-depth examination, please schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

Northside Hospital’s skin cancer screenings are free, but registration is requiredPlease call (404) 531-4444 to schedule an appointment.

Download our current schedule of skin cancer screenings. (Spanish version) Or visit our Classes & Events calendar.

Annual Examinations with your Physician

While melanoma is a particularly aggressive form of cancer, it is treatable when caught early. Your doctor will check your skin and look at the size, shape, color, and texture of any suspicious areas. If your doctor thinks you might have skin cancer or a melanoma, a biopsy will be performed to remove all or part of the growth. If the biopsy confirms melanoma, a much more aggressive operation will be necessary. 

A sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy may be done in some people with melanoma to see if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Once melanoma has been diagnosed, CT scans or other types of x-ray tests may be done to see if the cancer has spread. 

More safety tips to protect your skin:

  • Schedule your “sun time” for before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when exposure is less harmful.  If you are outside during “peak” hours, seek shade or a covered area, instead of being in direct sun.
  • Wear (and reapply) sunscreen.  Choose a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15, applying at least 20 minutes before going outside.  When you can, reapply every two hours, especially if you will be sweating or swimming. Protect yourself on overcast days, too.  UV rays still travel through clouds.
  • Remember that skin cancer can occur in places you don’t expect – the backs of your hands and feet, eyelids, ears, in between your toes and your lips.  Be thorough with sunscreen.
  • Accessorize.  Wear tightly woven, bright-colored clothing that covers most of the body.  These are more effective at blocking the suns rays and preventing unnecessary exposure.  Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants when in the sun.  Choose wrap-around sunglasses that absorb at least 100% of UV rays to help protect your eyes and the surrounding skin.
  • Check your medications.  Some, including acne treatment and birth control, can make your skin extra sensitive to sun exposure.  Check with your doctor to see if your medication may have such an effect.
  • Ditch the tanning bed.  With or without sunscreen, tanning beds can damage your skin, putting you at increased risk for cancer.  Continued tanning exposure can bring wrinkles, brown spots, blotchiness and leathery looking skin. 

Northside Hospital - Atlanta

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Atlanta, GA 30342
(404) 851-8000

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201 Hospital Road
Canton, GA 30114
(770) 720-5100

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Cumming, GA 30041
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