Malignant melanoma is actually a very small percentage of all skin cancers. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocytes—cells that produce pigment in the skin. It can also begin as an abnormal mole that then turns cancerous.

This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but persons with all skin types may be affected.

Types of Skin Cancer

Our dermatologists are a part of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Cutaneous Oncology Program and treat and research all areas of cutaneous cancer conditions, including the following:

Skin Cancer Treatment

A specific treatment plan for your skin cancer will be determined with you by our highly skilled physicians. It could include the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

Because our dermatologists and oncologists are experts in their field, you will receive the best treatment available, along with information about the latest research studies and newest technologies for the treatment of skin cancer.

Melanoma: Diagnosis

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have melanoma, you will likely need certain exams and tests to be sure. Diagnosing melanoma starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. He or she will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also examine you. He or she will take a close look at any suspicious moles or other marks on your skin. Your health care provider will look at your skin with the ABCDE rule in mind. This means looking at:

  • Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.

  • Border irregularity. The edges of the mole are ragged or irregular.

  • Color. The mole has different colors in it. It may be tan, brown, black, red, or other colors. Or it may have areas that appear to have lost color.

  • Diameter. The mole is bigger than 6 millimeters across, about the size of a pencil eraser. But some melanomas can be smaller.

  • Evolving. A mole changes in size, shape, or color.

Your healthcare provider will ask you about the mole. Tell him or her:

  • When you first noticed it

  • If it hurts or itches

  • If it oozes fluid or bleeds, or gets crusty

  • If it’s changed in size, color, or shape

Make sure to tell your healthcare provider if you’ve had skin cancer in the past. Also note whether anyone in your family has had skin cancer.

Getting a biopsy

A biopsy is taking a sample of tissue that’s taken to be checked in a lab. This is needed to confirm if a suspicious mole or spot is melanoma. Your healthcare provider will likely take a biopsy of any mole or other skin mark that may look like cancer.

Types of biopsies

The different types of biopsies include the following:

  • Excisional biopsy. This type of biopsy is often used when a wider or deeper piece of the skin is needed. The entire mole is removed. First, a numbing medicine is used on the area. Using a surgical knife (scalpel), the healthcare provider removes a full thickness wedge of skin. The wound is closed with surgical thread (sutures), staples, steri-strips, or surgical glue. This depends on the size of the incision and where it is.

  • Incisional biopsy. This procedure is similar to an excisional biopsy, but only part of the mole or mark is removed.

  • Punch biopsy. This type uses a special tool to take a small, full-thickness sample of skin. The tool removes a short cylinder of tissue, like an apple core. First, a numbing medicine is used on the area. The punch tool is turned on the surface of the skin until it cuts through all the layers of skin. The healthcare provider removes the biopsy sample and sometimes stitches the edges of the wound together. 

  • Shave biopsy. This type of biopsy removes the top layers of skin. They are shaved off with a scalpel. Shave biopsies are done with a local numbing medicine. 

Lab tests of your biopsy sample

A biopsy sample is sent to a lab, where a doctor called a pathologist looks at them under a microscope. He or she may do other tests on them to see if they contain melanoma cells.

If melanoma is found, the pathologist will look at certain features of the melanoma. These include the thickness of the melanoma and the portion of cells that are actively dividing (mitotic rate). These can help find out the extent (stage) of the melanoma. The stage of melanoma helps determine treatment options.

The pathologist might also do other tests to look for certain gene changes within the melanoma cells that could affect treatment options.

Getting your biopsy results

Your biopsy results will likely be ready in a few days to a week or so. Your healthcare provider will notify you of the results. He or she will talk with you about other tests that may be needed if melanoma is found. Make sure you understand the results and what follow-up you need.

Glen M. Bowen, MD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

Glen M. Bowen, MD specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. At the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Dr. Bowen is the clinical director of the Multidisciplinary Cutaneous Oncology Program and collaborates with physicians in plastic surgery, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), surgical oncology, radiation oncology, and medical oncolog... Read More

Julia Allen Curtis, MD

Dr. Julia Curtis is a Board-certified dermatologist in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah. She works in conjunction with Dr. Doug Grossman in the Mole Mapping Program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She is also instituting the Mole Mapping Program at the Midvalley Health Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Derm... Read More

Keith Duffy, MD

Patient Rating:


4.8 out of 5

Keith Duffy, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine and a Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator. Dr. Duffy's clinical interests include Mohs surgery (a microscopic technique that allows skin cancers to be removed with very narrow surgical margins), diagnostic dermatopathology (th... Read More


Dermatopathology, Melanoma Surgery, Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology, Mohs Surgery


Huntsman Cancer Institute
Patient Care Center
Midvalley Health Center 801-581-2955
University Hospital
Dermatology, Clinic 28

Mark J. Eliason, MD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

Mark Eliason, MD has specialized interest in skin cancer and inflammatory diseases of the skin. He is board certified in dermatology. He has completed a two-year fellowship in familial melanoma genetics and published research in this area. In addition, he has interest in inflammatory diseases such as urticaria and eczema. He sees patients for any g... Read More

Douglas Grossman, PhD, MD

Patient Rating:


4.8 out of 5

Douglas Grossman, MD, PhD, is an expert in the early diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in 1994, and completed his dermatology training at Yale University School of Medicine in 1998. Following a research fellowship in cancer biology at Yale, he was recruited to the University of... Read More

Mark A. Hyde, MMSc, PA-C, PhD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

Mark Hyde, PA-C has specialized expertise in the treatment of patients with melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. As a Physician Assistant, he is board certified in primary care. Mr. Hyde assists in performing Mohs micrographic surgery, having performed more than 9000 procedures at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.... Read More

Eric A. Millican, MD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

Eric Millican, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. He is fellowship-trained in Mohs Micrographic Surgery - a tissue-sparing technique for treating skin cancers with the highest cure rate. His clinical... Read More

Payam Tristani-Firouzi, MD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

Payam Tristani-Firouzi, MD has specialized expertise in Mohs Micrographic Surgery. This is a tissue-sparing technique for removal of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas with the highest cure rate. She is board certified in Dermatology and is a Fellow of the College of Mohs Surgery. Dr. Tristani-Firouzi’s main ... Read More

David A. Wada, MD

Patient Rating:


4.9 out of 5

David Wada, MD is a dermatologist who specializes in cutaneous oncology. His clinical focus is centered on the diagnosis and treatment of cutaneous lymphoma, lymphomatoid disorders (skin conditions that resemble lymphoma), and melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. He is involved in clinical trials associated with the treatment of cutaneous lymp... Read More

University of Utah Hospital
Clinic 28

50 N. Medical Drive
Salt Lake City, Utah 84132

Midvalley Health Center

243 East 6100 South
Murray, Utah 84107
South Jordan Health Center 5126 W. Daybreak Park
South Jordan, UT 84009