Posted September 14, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 4 min read
Melanoma is the most invasive skin cancer with the highest risk of death. While it’s a serious skin cancer, it's highly curable if caught early. Prevention and early treatment are critical, especially if you have fair skin, blonde or red hair and blue eyes.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma, which means
black tumor, is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
It grows quickly and has the ability to spread to any organ.
Melanoma comes from skin cells called melanocytes.
These cells produce melanin, the dark pigment that gives skin its color.
Most melanomas are black or brown in color, but some are pink, red, purple or skin-colored.
About 30% of melanomas begin in existing moles, but the rest start in normal skin.
This makes it especially important to pay attention to changes in your skin because the majority of melanomas don’t start as moles.
Causes of Melanoma
Most experts agree that a major risk factor for melanoma is overexposure to sunlight, especially sunburns when you are young.
Statistics tell us that 86% of melanomas are caused by solar ultraviolet (UV) rays
UV exposure can cause damage to a cell’s DNA, making changes to particular genes that affect how cells grow and divide.
The potential for problems comes when your skin’s DNA is damaged and those cells start reproducing.
UV radiation from tanning beds also increases the risk of melanoma and has been designated as a carcinogen (cancer-causing) by the World Health Organization.
Stages of Melanoma
Melanomas are grouped into the following stages:
Stage 0 (Melanoma in situ): The melanoma is only in the top layer of skin (the epidermis).
Stage I: Low-risk primary melanoma with no evidence of spread. This stage is generally curable with surgery.
Stage II: Features are present that indicate higher risk of recurrence, but there is no evidence of spread.
Stage III: The melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes or nearby skin.
Stage IV: The melanoma has spread to more distant lymph nodes or skin or has spread to internal organs.
Diagnosis of Melonoma
- Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: Patients with melanomas deeper than 0.8 mm, those who have ulceration under the microscope in tumors of any size or other less common concerning features under the microscope, may need a biopsy of sentinel lymph nodes to determine if the melanoma has spread. Patients diagnosed via a sentinel lymph node biopsy have higher survival rates than those diagnosed with melanoma in lymph nodes via physical exam.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan can show if melanoma is in your internal organs.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan: An MRI scan is used to check for melanoma tumors in the brain or spinal cord.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan: A PET scan can check for melanoma in lymph nodes and other parts of your body distant from the original melanoma skin spot.
- Blood work: Blood tests may be used to measure lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) before treatment. Other tests include blood chemistry levels and blood cell counts.
Symptoms of Melanoma
Use the American Academy of Dermatology’s
ABCDE memory device to learn the warning signs that a spot on your skin may be melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half does not match the other half.
- Border: The edges are not smooth.
- Color: The color is mottled and uneven, with shades of brown, black, gray, red or white.
- Diameter: The spot is greater than the tip of a pencil eraser (6.0 mm).
- Evolving: The spot is new or changing in size, shape or color.
Treatment of Melanoma
Melanoma Surgery: In the early stages, surgery has a high probability of being able to cure your melanoma. Usually performed in an office, a dermatologist numbs the skin with a local anesthetic and removes the melanoma and margins (healthy surrounding skin).
Lymphadenectomy: In cases where melanoma has spread, removal of the lymph nodes near the primary diagnosis site may be required. This can prevent the spread to other areas of your body.
Metastasectomy: Metastasectomy is used to remove small melanoma bits from organs.
Targeted cancer therapy: In this treatment option, drugs are used to attack specific cancer cells. This “targeted” approach goes after cancer cells, leaving healthy cells untouched.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy includes treatments with high-energy rays to attack cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Immunotherapy: immunotherapy stimulates your own immune system to help fight the cancer.