Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in the skin. It can be caused by excessive sun exposure, especially in fair skinned people, and it can be inherited. People with a greater than average number of moles are at an increased risk of developing Melanoma. If left untreated, Melanoma can grow deep into the skin; it can reach the blood and lymphatic vessels and spread throughout the body. Melanoma can be life threatening, however, it is curable if detected early.
Signs of Melanoma
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even in areas not usually exposed to the sun. It is most common on the legs and back; it is usually brown or black, and it may arise from an existing mole, or appear on normal skin. When looking at a spot on the skin, it is helpful to use the ABCDE's guidelines to determine whether a lesion is suspicious.
The ABCDEs of Melanoma state the following to be characteristics of Melanocytic lesions.
- Asymmetry of the lesion
- Border irregularity
- Color variability or unusually dark
- Diameter 6 mm or greater
- Evolution - change in appearance
Melanomas grow slowly; therefore any slight change should arouse suspicion and be examined by a physician.
Diagnosis And Treatment
If Melanoma is suspected, it should be promptly biopsied to confirm diagnosis. Call a dermatologist right away for a professional opinion.
Melanoma treatment is determined based on how deeply the cancer has penetrated the skin. Treatment begins with melanoma surgery, an excision of the visible lesion in addition to a small amount of surrounding tissue. After excision, the specimen is sent to a lab for confirmation that the skin cancer has been completely removed. If it is found to be an early Melanoma limited to the outermost layer of the skin, it is known as melanoma-in-situ, and is easily cured with this method of excision.
If the Melanoma is found to extend deeper into the tissues, additional tissue will need to be taken until the skin is clear of all cancerous cells. These surgical excisions can leave significant open wounds called defects. Skin cancer defects can be surgically closed by a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon. In some instances reconstructive surgery by a plastic surgeon may be needed after excision of skin cancer.
If Melanoma has penetrated beyond the surface layers of the skin, specialized tests, such as an MRI, CT scan, PET scan, or a Sentinel lymph node biopsy, may need to be ordered to determine if the cancer has metastasized.
Melanoma that has metastasized requires a different treatment plan which may include surgical removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
Prevention and Detection
Prevention is best done by using proper sun protection, doing routine self-examinations, and having routine examinations by a physician. This is especially important if risk factors are present, such as a family history of melanoma, or a greater than average number of atypical moles.
Early detection can save your life. Contact a dermatologist if you notice a mole changing over time, new moles appearing after the age of 30, or any warning sign noted in the ABCDEs of Melanoma.
think you have spotted a Melanoma?
If you think you have spotted a Melanoma, contact a skin cancer specialist for a professional opinion right away. SCARS has skin cancer specialists at our offices in Newport Beach and Orange County that can help you.
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