Melanoma potentially develops when skin cells are exposed to intense ultra-violet radiation which damages the DNA and in turn initiates mutations that evolve into tumors. While melanoma is fairly rare it is the most dangerous of the skin cancers and has been responsible for over 8000 deaths annually in the United States alone.
The Symptoms of Melanoma
People with fair skins that sunburn easily, have an excessive amount of moles on their body or have a family history of melanoma are at higher risk but everyone has a certain amount of susceptibility. Early detection is the key to receiving successful treatment so constant monitoring of the skin is essential, use the ABCDE guide of melanoma as criteria whether or not to consult a physician
If any of the following symptoms occur promptly see a doctor:
- Asymmetry: Melanomas are generally irregularly shaped.
- Borders: The edges of a melanoma are jagged and uneven.
- Color: Different tones and colors are a warning signal.
- Diameter: Melanomas are generally larger than a quarter inch across.
- Evolving: Changes in color and shape are possibly a sign of melanoma.
Types and Stages of Melanoma
There are four types of melanoma, the first three begin in the top layers of the skin and might become invasive but the fourth is invasive once it has been diagnosed, they are as follows:
- Superficial Spreading Melanoma, is the most common and often occurs in younger people.
- Lentigo Maligna is similar to the above melanoma but occurs more frequently in the elderly.
- Acral Lentiginous Melanoma is most common on dark skinned people and often advances more rapidly that the above two types.
- Nodular Melanoma is invasive from the start and the most aggressive form, it is usually found on the legs, arms and torso of the elderly and on the scalp of men.
The stages of melanoma are measured by the thickness of the tumor, known as Breslow’s thickness. Thin melanomas are less than a millimeter thick, intermediate are between 1mm and 4mm, thick melanomas are over 4mm and can possibly have spread into the organs.
Generally a melanoma is treated by surgially removing the tumor, and in the case of thin melanomas, can often be done as an outpatient under local anesthesia. The amount of skin that is removed around the tumor is now no more than 2cm in the most advanced cases as doctors have discovered that margins greater than 2cm do not increase survival. There have been recent advancements in the treatment available and a new drug, peginterferon alfa-2b, has been approved by the FDA.