Posted by Roland Beverly, MD on May 22, 2014 under

Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer, and also the most deadly. About 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the US every year, and just under 70,000 of these cases are invasive melanomas. In America, 1 in 50 people will get melanoma in their lifetime. This type of skin cancer kills an estimated 8,790 Americans every year, which averages out to about 1 death per hour!


What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes (the cells that produce skin pigment) in the basal layer of the skin. It occurs when there is DNA damage to the cells (typically caused by UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds) that the body cannot repair, that then causes cell mutations leading to tumors.

There are 4 basic types of melanoma:

Superficial Spreading Melanoma

This is the most common kind of melanoma (making up approx. 70% of all cases). This type of melanoma starts in the top layer of the skin, but left untreated it goes deeper into the skin and can metastasize to other areas of the body. Young people who get melanoma typically have this type.

Lentigo Melanoma

Similar to superficial spreading melanoma, Lentigo Melanoma grows in the upper layer of the skin. It is most commonly found in the elderly, on sun-exposed areas.

Acral Lentiginous Melanoma

Like the above two types, this type of melanoma grows superficially before going deeper into the skin & spreading. Acral lentiginious melanoma is often found under the nails, on the soles of the feet or on the palms of the hands. This is the most common type of melanoma in African Americans and Asians, and it grows more quickly than the two melanomas described above.

Nodular Melanoma

This is the most invasive & aggressive type of melanoma. When first diagnosed, nodular melanoma has often already become invasive.

What does it look like?

Melanomas are typically black or brown, resembling moles. They may also be pink, skin-colored, red, purple, blue or white. Follow the ABCDEs of skin cancer that we looked at on our previous blog post (ABCDEs of Skin Cancer) or here at the AAD website.

Where does it appear?

Melanoma can grow anywhere on the body.

Who gets Melanoma?

As with the squamous and basal cell, melanoma is most common in fair-skinned people and people who regularly use tanning beds. Men over 50 are at higher risk, but melanoma is becoming more and more common in younger people do to tanning beds and unsafe sun habits (such as tanning or not using sunscreen). Melanoma is now the most common form of cancer (ANY cancer) in young adults (ages 25-29) and the second most common in young people aged 15-29. One study notes that pediatric melanoma has been increasing at a rate of 2% per year over the past 30 years.

How is it diagnosed?

As with Basal Cell, your dermatologist will do a biopsy on the growth. A biopsy is a simple procedure in which the dermatologist scrapes or shaves off the growth on the skin.The specimen sent to the lab for diagnosis.

Once the biopsy comes back positive for melanoma, the doctor will then determine the stage the cancer, from Stage 0 (in situ, meaning it is just in the skin & has not spread to other parts of the body) to Stage IV (most advanced stage meaning the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, an internal organ, or another area of skin far from the original melanoma site). For more details on staging, please visit: http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/m---p/melanoma/diagnosis-treatment 

How is it treated?

How melanoma is treated depends on how deeply the melanoma has penetrated into the skin, whether or not it has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) and the patient’s health.

Early stage melanoma is surgically removed and no additional therapy is needed. 

At a more advanced stage, you will be referred to an oncologist, who will determine how best to treat the cancer. The treatment options include lymphadectomy (surgical removal of the affected lymph nodes), immunotherapy (injections or other treatments to help support the patient’s immune system as it fights off the cancer), chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. 

Prevention Tips

Approximately 86% of melanoma cases are due to UV exposure, so being sun safe (see previous blog post) will go a LONG way in reducing your risk of getting melanoma. Here are a few facts to further encourage you to practice safe sun habits:

*Daily use of sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) reduced your risk of getting melanoma by 50% 

*Someone who has had 5 or more sunburns in their lifetime has doubled his/her risk of getting melanoma. Even ONE blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescents doubles the melanoma risk

 

For more information on Melanoma, please visit:

American Academy of Dermatology

Skin Cancer Foundation

Melanoma Research Foundation

BLOG DISCLAIMER: Information on this blog is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose or treat any skin ailment. Please make an appointment with your physician for personalized medical advice. 

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