What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer. It is not as common as other types of skin cancer, but it is the most serious. Melanoma can affect your skin only, or it may spread to your
organs and bones. They can be found anywhere on your body. Luckily, it can be cured if it’s found and treated early.
What causes melanoma?
You can get melanoma by spending too much time in the sun. This causes normal skin cells to become abnormal. These abnormal cells quickly grow out of control and attack the tissues around them. Melanoma tends to run in families. Other things in your family background can increase your chances of getting the disease.
For example, you may have abnormal, or atypical, moles. Atypical moles may fade into the skin and have a flat part that is level with the skin. They may be smooth or slightly scaly, or they may look rough and “pebbly”. These moles don’t cause cancer by themselves. But having many of them is a sign that melanoma may run in your family.
What are the symptoms?
The main sign of melanoma is a change in a mole or other skin growth, such as a birthmark. Any change in the shape, size, or color of a mole may be a sign of melanoma. Melanoma may grow in a mole or birthmark that you already have. But melanomas usually grow in unmarked skin. Most of the time, they are on the upper back in men and women and on the legs of women.
Melanoma looks like a flat, brown or black mole that has uneven edges. Melanomas usually have an irregular or asymmetrical shape. This means that one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half. Melanoma moles or marks can be 6mm or larger. Unlike a normal mole or mark, a melanoma can: change color, be lumpy or rounded, and become crusty, ooze, or bleed.
How is melanoma diagnosed?
Your doctor will check your skin to look for melanoma. If your doctor thinks you have melanoma, he or she will remove a sample of tissue from the area around the melanoma (biopsy). Another doctor, called a pathologist, will look at the tissue to check for cancer cells. If your biopsy shows melanoma, you may need to have more tests to find out if it has spread to your lymph nodes.
How is melanoma treated?
The most common treatment is surgery to remove the melanoma. That is all the treatment that you may need for early-stage melanomas that have not spread to other parts of your body. Depending on where the melanoma is on your body, and how thick it is, the surgery to remove it may leave a scar. You might need another surgery to repair this scar.
After surgery, your doctor will want to see you every 3 to 6 months for the next 5 years. During these visits, your doctor will check to see if the cancer has returned and if you have any new melanomas. If your melanoma is very deep or has spread to your lymph nodes, you may need medicine called interferon to fight the cancer cells.
Laser and electrocautery treatments are not always effective because they only reach the outermost layers of the skin, while moles penetrate very deep into the dermal tissue, often beyond the reach of these treatments. Surgery, the other option doctors commonly offer, involves cutting out the mole. The resulting wound requires stitches, which will leave a scar.