What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a malignant tumor of the melanin cells that make skin color. It is the most dangerous of all skin cancers. As of June of 2019, almost 100,000 new cases of melanoma have been diagnosed. An estimated 7200 people will die of melanoma in 2019, but if diagnosed and treated early it is almost always curable.
In women melanoma typically appears on the arms and legs, and in men the most common site is the trunk and head and neck. Ocular melanoma is the most common cancer of the eye.
What causes melanoma?
Melanoma is caused by damaged DNA that allows the cells to grow uncontrollably. The cause of the DNA damage is multi-factorial meaning many risk factors combine to cause cancer. Ultraviolet light causes melanoma, but melanoma can be found on skin that has never been exposed to the sun, including the mucus membranes of the mouth, nose and genitals; and on the palms, soles of the feet and in the nail beds of the fingers and toes.
Who is at risk?
Risk factors include:
- UV sun exposure that causes melanomas on the face, neck and arms, and studies have shown that melanoma on the chest and back are linked to sunburns, particularly in childhood
- People with multiple moles have an increased risk of melanoma.
- Atypical moles are unusual looking benign moles that create a high risk for developing melanoma. These moles run in families. The more of these moles a person has the higher the risk. 5-10% of melanomas arise in people at increased hereditary risk. But only a small number of atypical moles become cancerous.
- A family and person history of melanoma. About 10% of people with a family history will go non to develop melanoma.
- A weakened immune system.
- Fair skin, freckles and light hair.
- Most melanoma affects older men, but melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged 15-29.
What are the Melanoma warning signs?
Learn you ABCDs and conduct regular monthly self-examination and annual or more frequent examinations by your dermatologist. The common characteristics of melanoma are:
- A – Asymmetry. If you divide the mole into halves, one side is different from the other.
- B – Borders. Irregular and uneven borders that may be notched or scalloped.
- C – Color. Nonmalignant moles have a single color, usually brown. A malignant mole has a variety of colors that can be brown, black, red, purple, white or blue.
- D – Diameter. Benign moles are usually small and round. Melanomas are larger than the tip of a pencil (1/4 inch in diameter).
- E – Evolving. The mole changes over time in shape, color, symmetry or diameter is a danger sign.
What are the different types of melanoma?
- In situ or superficial melanoma grows only on the top layers of the skin for a time before it penetrates more deeply. This type accounts for about 70% of melanoma cases in young people. The A, B, C, D, E’s apply here. If caught early, it can be cured.
- Nodular melanoma is highly malignant and starts as a bump that is usually black but can have various colors.
Dr. Sadek will ask about your symptoms, when the lesion or mark first showed changes, and the changes you experienced. He will evaluate your personal and family medical history, history of tanning and sun exposure, and conduct an examination of the lesions in question and check your body for other moles. He may feel your lymph glands for enlargement, as this may be a sign of spread.
Any suspicious spots will be biopsied, and the tissue sent to a lab to confirm his diagnosis. When the diagnosis is melanoma, he may order a sentinel node biopsy to check whether the cancer has spread to the lymph. If there is concern that the melanoma has spread or you are at high risk, imaging tests may be ordered including a chest x-ray because melanoma spreads to the lungs.
After the diagnosis, the tumor will be staged. Staging is the process of determining the location of the cancer, if it has spread and to where, and potential responses to treatment.
Treatment options are determined based on the thickness of the cancer, whether and where it has spread, its stage and genetic changes, its growth rate, and your overall health and medical condition. Other considerations include the potential for side effects, your preferences.
Dr. Joseph Sedrak is a board-certified, fellowship trained dermatologist and Mohs surgeon. At the Texas Skin Cancer Center with offices in Houston, Kingwood and Sugarland, Texas you will always receive private, respectful and compassionate care in a state-of-the-art facility. Contact Texas Skin Cancer Center to schedule a consultation today. Don’t wait. Early diagnosis and treatment can save you from disfigurement and could save your life.