What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the least common, but most dangerous form of skin cancer. It develops in the pigment producing melanocytes on the base of the skin’s outer layer, the epidermis. Melanoma looks like an abnormal mole and often do grow inside existing moles. Each year, over 10,000 people die from melanoma. If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable. If it is not, the cancer can progress and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes difficult to treat and can be fatal.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Everyone is at risk for melanoma. However, increased risk depends on:
- Sun exposure: blistering sunburns during childhood, cumulative sun exposure resulting in damage, tanning bed use, people who live in south (Texas, Florida, Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii… etc.)
- Number of moles: people with 100+ moles are at a greater risk for developing melanoma.
- Skin type: fair skin, red or blonde hair and blue or green eyes
- Family History (genetics): 1 in 10 patients diagnosed with melanoma have a family history and are 50% at greater risk.
Melanoma Signs & Symptoms
Melanoma most commonly appears as strange or abnormal moles that follow the ABCDE’s of melanoma warning signs. See a skin cancer expert if you identify any of the following:
The ABCDE’s of Melanoma Warning Signs
- A – Asymmetry: part of the mole looks different than the rest of the mole
- B – Border irregularity: edges are irregular, uneven or jagged borders
- C – Color changes: multi-colored or dark moles
- D – Diameter: large moles with a diameter greater than or equal to 1/4 inch (6 millimeters), the size of a pencil eraser
- E – Evolving: changes in the way a mole looks over time, or development of other symptoms like itchiness, oozing or bleeding
Suspicious moles may be biopsied to check for cancerous cells.
It is extremely important to treat melanomas before they spread, so early detection is key. Perform regular self-exams and get frequent professional mole checkups, especially if you have a family history of melanoma, have significant sun damage or other risk factors.
Types of Melanoma
4 basic types of melanoma. The first 3 listed start as in-situ, or superficial, not spreading deep and may become invasive.
- SUPERFICIAL SPREADING MELANOMA: the most common type & most commonly seen in young people. It can occur in a previously benign mole anywhere on the body.
- LENTIGO MALIGNA: most common in the elderly, arising on chronically sun-exposed, damaged skin and typically looks like a sunspot that may be flat or slightly elevated mottled or dark brown discoloration.
- ACRAL LENTIGINOUS MELANOMA: more common in people of color. It typically looks like a black or brown discoloration under the nails, on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.
- NODULAR MELANOMA: most aggressive, and usually invasive when diagnosed. It typically looks like a black bump, but may be blue, gray, white, brown, tan, red or skin tone.
Stages of Melanoma
Used to classify the disease as to its degree of severity. Staging is used to determine the treatment plan.
- Surgical excision: most common method. Removes cancerous skin tissue, as well as some healthy tissue surrounding the affected area.
- If melanoma has progressed and spread beyond the skin: Lymph node dissection, Chemotherapy, Radiation and Immunotherapy may be recommended.