A malignant melanoma is a tumor created by the malignant transformation of melanocytes, mature melanin-forming cells in the skin. Melanoma is the most invasive type of skin cancer with the highest risk of death. While malignant melanoma can be fatal, it’s highly treatable if caught in its early stages, as prevention and early treatment are critical. Our medical and surgical dermatologists in Gainesville, FL, provide patients with full-service surgical dermatology treatments with the highest quality of care, innovative techniques, consultative support, and state-of-the-art equipment. Help ensure the health and longevity of your skin and your health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for malignant melanoma treatment.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, means “black tumor” and is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It grows quickly and can spread throughout the body to any organ. Melanoma comes from melanocytes, which are skin cells located in the deep layer of the skin and produce melanin or the dark pigment that provides the skin with color. Melanin also helps protect the body from the sun’s ultraviolet light (UV radiation). While most melanomas are brown or black, they may also be pink, red, purple, or skin-colored. Only 20–30% of melanomas are found within existing moles on the skin, while 70–80% of melanomas arise on skin that appears normal, making it particularly important for each individual to become familiar with their skin and pay close attention to changes in the skin.
The number of moles a person has, however, might help predict their skin’s risk for developing melanoma skin cancer. Identifying if you are in a high-risk group for developing skin cancer can be critical to successful treatment. The rapid growth rate of melanomas means a delay in treatment can be the difference between life and death. Understanding your risk can help you maintain a high degree of vigilance, keep an eye out for changes in your skin, and seek regular skin examinations.
Melanoma can have a 99% cure rate if caught in its earliest stages. Early detection of melanomas is critical, as treatment success is related directly to the depth and spread of the cancerous growth.
How Common Is Melanoma?
Melanoma accounts for a small proportion of total skin cancer diagnoses, yet it causes the vast majority of skin cancer-related deaths. Malignant melanoma is among the most prevalent cancers in people under 30, particularly in young women. Over the past three decades, melanoma incidence has dramatically increased, putting more of the worldwide population at risk for developing life-threatening skin cancers.The increasing levels of UV exposure are among the leading causes of this fast rise in the number of melanoma cases.
How Serious Is Malignant Melanoma?
Fortunately, melanoma is usually curable when detected early and treated promptly. Once melanoma spreads deeper into the skin or to other parts of the body, it becomes significantly more challenging to treat and can be fatal. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that a 5-year survival rate for U.S. patients whose melanoma is detected early is approximately 99%, while an estimated 7,650 people will die from skin-cancer-related deaths in the U.S. in 2022.
Types Of Melanoma
The four main types of melanoma skin cancer are superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna, acral lentiginous melanoma, and nodular melanoma. Please contact us for more information about melanoma, prevention information, and treatment options.
Superficial Spreading Melanoma
Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common form and can develop in an existing mole or may appear as a new skin lesion. In an existing mole, it usually grows on the surface of the skin before penetrating more deeply after some time. It can occur anywhere on the body, though it’s most likely to appear on the torso, upper back, and legs. It may appear slightly raised or flat, discolored, and asymmetrical patch with uneven borders. The lesion can be shades of black, brown, tan, red, pink, blue, or white. It may also lack pigment and look like a skin-toned or pink lesion.
Lentigo maligna is a form of melanoma that typically develops in older individuals. When it becomes invasive and spreads beyond its original site, this is referred to as lentigo maligna melanoma. Similar to superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna grows close to the skin’s surface at first and often on sun-damaged skin located on the head and neck, though it can occur anywhere. It can appear as a flat or raised, blotchy patch with uneven borders (non-symmetrical). Lentigo maligna usually appears blue-black but may also show tan, brown, or dark brown colors.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma
The most common form of melanoma found in people of color, acral lentiginous melanoma, often appears in difficult-to-see places of the body, such as under the fingernails and the soles of the feet or on the palms of the hands. It is a rare type of skin cancer and usually appears as a black or brown lesion. This form of melanoma can arise in normal-appearing skin or develop within existing moles. Malignant cells start and remain within their tissue of origin, the surface of the skin. It becomes invasive when these cells penetrate the epidermis and enter the demis.
An invasive variation of melanoma, nodular melanoma, is the most aggressive type of melanoma skin cancer. With nodular melanoma, the tumor grows deeper in the skin more quickly than in other forms of melanoma skin cancer. It is most frequently found on the torso, legs, arms, and scalp, though it can occur anywhere else on the body. It is usually invasive at the time it is diagnosed. This type of melanoma is sometimes recognized as a bump on the skin that is generally black and/or blue, though it can also develop and appear as a bump with a pink or red color. Please contact us for more information.
Malignant Melanoma Symptoms
You can develop melanomas anywhere on your body. Melanoma can even form on your eyes and within your internal organs. Men typically have a higher risk of developing melanoma on their trunks, such as the upper back, while women are usually more likely to develop melanomas on their legs, among other areas of their body. Melanoma can appear as moles, scaly patches, open sores, or even raised bumps. One of the best ways to learn the warning signs and melanoma symptoms that characterize the potential presence of skin cancer is to go through the “ABCDE” memory device.
- Asymmetry. One-half of the lesion is not identical to the other half.
- Border. The edges of the lesion are jagged or not smooth.
- Color. The color is uneven or mottled with shades of brown, white, black, gray, or red.
- Diameter. The spot or lesion is greater than 6.0 mm, or the end of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving. The lesion is new to your body or changes in size, shaper, or color.
While this list of malignant melanoma characteristics can be helpful, some melanomas don’t fit this rule, so it’s important to notify your dermatologist about any unusual bumps or rashes, any changes in your skin, any existing or new moles, and any sores that won’t properly heal. Additionally, if one of your moles looks different from the others, it should be seen by a dermatologist. Schedule a skin examination with Dermatology Associates today.
What Causes Melanoma?
Among the causes of malignant melanoma, most skin experts agree that a major risk for malignant melanoma is overexposure to sunlight, specifically sunburns for young people. UV rays cause the vast majority of melanomas. Persistent, unprotected, long-term exposure to UV radiation can damage skin cell DNA, altering particular genes that affect how the cells grow and divide.
When your skin’s DNA becomes damaged, these cells reproduce and cause significant health issues. UV radiation from tanning beds also increases the risk of melanoma. Anyone can develop melanoma, though people with a personal history of melanoma; a family history of melanoma; fair skin, freckles, blond or red hair, and blue eyes; excess sun exposure, including sunburns; living near the equator or in high elevations, which can increase the risk of UV exposure; a history of use of tanning beds; many moles, especially atypical moles; and a weakened or suppressed immune system.
Melanoma is usually more common in people with white skin, but it can occur in people of all skin types and tones. Individuals with darker skin most often experience melanoma on the soles of their feet, the palms of their hands, or under their nails.
How Is Melanoma Diagnosed?
If you have a mole or another area of your skin that appears suspicious, or if a new development occurs in your skin, you should contact your dermatologist to schedule an appointment. During the appointment, your doctor may remove the lesion (skin biopsy) and look at it under a microscope to determine whether or not it contains cancer cells. Should the skin biopsy results show evidence of melanoma, the next step is to determine if the melanoma has spread to other areas of your body. This process is known as staging. Once a melanoma diagnosis is confirmed, the melanoma will be categorized into a stage based on multiple factors, including how deeply it’s spread and its appearance under the microscope.
The tumor’s thickness is the most important factor in predicting the outcome of a case. Breslow Depth is measured on the biopsied spot and is best predoctored on time. There are several stages of melanoma. Stage 0, or melanoma in situ, is when the melanoma is only in the top layer of the epidermis. Stage I occurs when there is a low-risk primary melanoma without evidence of spreading. This stage is typically curable with surgery, among other forms of treatment. Stage II features indicate a high risk of recurrence, but no evidence of spread is seen. Stage III is characterized by melanoma spreading to nearby lymph nodes or skin. Stage IV is melanoma that has spread to distant lymph nodes or skin or melanoma that has spread to the internal organs.
What Tests Are Used To Stage Melanoma?
Several tests may be used to stage a patient’s melanoma. Your dermatologist may use a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a CT scan, an MRI scan, a PET scan, and blood tests to determine the stage of your melanoma.
- Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy. This test takes a sample of and tests sentinel lymph nodes to determine if melanoma has spread in patients with melanomas deeper than 0.8 mm, those with ulceration in their skin biopsies, or other uncommon features present under the microscope.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan. A CT scan shows whether or not the melanoma has spread into the internal organs.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan. An MRI scan looks for melanoma tumors in the brain and spinal cord.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan. A PET scan can inspect the body for melanoma in the lymph nodes and other body parts other than the original skin spot with melanoma.
Malignant Melanoma Treatment
The type of melanoma treatment you receive will depend on several factors, such as the stage of the melanoma and your general health. In most cases, melanoma surgery is used to treat this condition. Treatments for melanoma may include melanoma surgery, lymphadenectomy, metastasectomy, targeted cancer therapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. Some patients may choose to participate in a clinical trial, which is a research program conducted with patients to evaluate a drug, device, or medical treatment.
In the early stages of melanoma, melanoma surgery or surgical excision of skin cancer has a high likelihood of curing melanoma. Performed as an in-office treatment, your dermatologist will numb your skin with a local anesthetic and remove the melanoma and margins or healthy skin surrounding the melanoma. The amount of healthy skin removed will depend on the size and location of your skin cancer.
A lymphadenectomy, or removal of the lymph nodes near the primary diagnosis site, may be required in cases where the melanoma has spread to other skin or body areas. This procedure can help prevent the spread of skin cancer to other areas of the body.
Targeted Cancer Therapy
Targeted cancer therapy uses drugs to specifically attack cancer cells in the body. This approach is targeted, going after cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
Radiation therapy comprises treatments with high-energy rays that attack cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Immunotherapy stimulates your immune system to help your body increase its natural defenses to help fight your skin cancer.
How To Prevent Melanoma
With regard to a malignant melanoma prognosis, most skin cancer varieties can be cured if they are treated before they spread to other areas of the body. More advanced cases of melanoma, however, can be deadly. The earlier your skin cancer is identified by your dermatologist, and you receive treatment for it, the more optimistic your chances for a full recovery. You can help reduce your risk of developing melanoma by protecting your skin and yourself against excess sun and sunburns, as well as unprotected exposure of your skin to the sun. Be sure to inform your doctor of any new or changing moles, sores, skin discolorations, or other features. Help reduce your risk of malignant melanoma with the following.
- Always seek shade and avoid the sun while outdoors, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Do not use tanning beds. Opt for a cosmetic spray tan or sunless self-tan products instead.
- Wear wide brims, protective eyewear, long sleeves, and pants. Choose sun-protective clothing with a UPF rating.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 35 or higher and reapply often through the day, usually every 1.5 hours, particularly when you sweat or swim.
- Apply and re-apply sun protection to your lips.
- Visit your dermatologist regularly for routine skin examinations.