Melanoma also known as malignant melanoma is a less common, but more dangerous form of cancer. These cancers form from melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce the pigment (melanin) that gives color to our skin, hair and eyes. These cells are located in the lower layer of the epidermis. Melanoma can be fatal if not treated quickly and properly because it may spread to other parts of the body. A Melanoma can be diagnosed as:
In situ– the cancer remains in the epidermis
Invasive– the cancer has spread to the dermis layer
Metastatic– the cancer has spread to other tissues
What to look for
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, but are more likely to start on the chest, back or legs, as well as sun exposed areas on the face and neck. People of color may develop melanoma on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, which happened to famed musician Bob Marley.
Suspicious spots on your skin may show one or more of the following signs:
A mole like growth or freckle usually brown or black; however, color may also be pink, tan, red, purple, blue or white
Asymmetry– one half of the area doesn’t match the other. Draw an imaginary line down the center and compare sides. If they don’t match, the spot is asymmetric.
Borders– the edges are uneven, ragged or notched.
Color – the color is different throughout. Different shades of brown, black and tan maybe noted.
Diameter– the size appears larger than a pencil eraser ( ¼”)
Evolving– you notice changes in the size, shape, color or bleeding, itchy, crusty skin appears.
Cause and Risks
Causes of melanomas are primarily exposure to UV light (sun, tanning beds), age, history of sunburns, and genetic factors. Some of the genetic factors include: family history of skin cancer, multiple moles, light eyes, red or blond hair and fair skin tone.
A diagnosis of melanoma is made by a medical professional. The MD will examine your skin and review your medical history. The area of concern will be removed and analyzed in the lab (diagnostic excision)
There are different types of treatment for melanoma. Factors to consider include: stage, size, depth, type, location, has it spread (to lymph nodes for example) and overall patient health. The main treatment is surgery.
Staged Excision: removal of the growth/lesion with permanent section margin control
Depending on the diagnosis, other possible treatments used: lymphadenectomy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapy
People who have been treated for melanoma are at risk for formation of a new primary melanoma unrelated to the first and recurrence. It is very important not to delay treatment. Waiting too long may make it more difficult to treat. Simple Self-Skin exams once a month in conjunction with regular skin exams at intervals determined by your doctor are needed. In addition, have regular exams with your primary care physician. Recommendations to decrease risk include: limit sun exposure, limit alcohol, maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active.