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Malignant melanoma is the rarest of all skin cancers. But while it’s less common than basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), it’s more dangerous, as malignant melanoma has a higher chance of spreading to other layers of the skin and parts of the body.
Thus, it’s important to know more about this skin cancer to lower your risk, understand the signs and symptoms of melanoma, and know what your treatment options are.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer originating in the epidermis (uppermost layer of skin). It develops in the melanocyte cells, which are the cells that produce melanin to create the brown pigmentation in skin. When melanocyte cells become mutated, they begin to reproduce out of control. This process of rapid cell reproduction is what we call cancer.
Malignant Melanoma FAQ
There’s strong evidence suggesting that extensive ultraviolet (UV) exposure is a major factor. So don’t be fooled into thinking that glowy skin tan is a good thing! Developing a tan is a sign you’ve already caused trauma to the skin cells and, over time, UV damage can cause the cell’s DNA to mutate, which can make your cells reproduce out of control and spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma has distinct features to help aid early detection and diagnosis. Because melanoma occurs in the cells that make melanin, melanoma tumors are often brown or black, but they can also be tan, pink, or white.
For early detection, follow the helpful ABCDE guide to determine if an unusual mole or spot needs a more thorough examination by a board-certified dermatologist.
- A is for Asymmetry – If you draw a line through the middle of the mole or dark spot on your skin, you do not have matching halves.
- B is for Border – The borders of the mole may be irregular, scalloped, or faded.
- C is for Color – Mole color is inconsistent, with shades of tan, brown, red, black, dark brown, or blue.
- D is for Diameter – Melanomas are typically larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser).
- E is for Evolving – Keep an eye out for a mole or skin growth that looks different from others on your body or changes in appearance over time.
Other symptoms and signs of melanoma include:
- A sore that won’t heal or that does heal but then comes back.
- Redness or swelling around a mole.
- Change in sensation in or around a mole, such as itching, tenderness, or pain.
- Changes to the surface of a mole or spot, such as scaling, oozing, or bleeding.
There are 5 stages of melanoma skin cancer.
- Stage 0 (melanoma in situ) is when the cancer is in the early phase and confined to the top layer of skin.
- Stage 1 is when the cancer has spread deeper into the skin and has a thickness of 1 millimeter to 2 millimeters.
- Stage 2 melanoma is still only in the skin with no sign of spreading but has a thickness greater than 2 millimeters
- Stage 3 generally means the melanoma has spread to either nearby lymph nodes or between the melanoma and lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 melanoma has spread to other parts of the body.
The melanoma survival rate depends on the thickness of the primary melanoma and whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
For people with “thin melanoma” that has not spread, the 5-year survival is 99%. For those with “thicker melanoma,” the 5-year survival may be as low as 80%.
If the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the survival rate is around 65%. If melanoma has spread to other, more distant parts of the body, the survival rate is about 25%. However, survival varies depending on a number of factors, and survival rates for people with melanoma are an estimate.
Melanoma is always easiest to treat and almost always curable during the earliest stages. Thus, it’s important to regularly visit your physician or a board-certified dermatologist for thorough skin exams.
At Cumberland Skin Surgery and Dermatology, we offer a number of skin cancer treatment options. However, for melanoma skin cancer, we recommend Mohs surgery. This is a precise technique that allows the surgeon to remove only the cancerous cells, preserving healthy skin. This results in the highest cure rate and smallest possible scar. Additionally, it’s completely performed in an office-based outpatient setting, rather than a hospital.