Malignant Melanoma

melanomaWhat is an Malignant Melanoma?

Melanoma is a common form of skin cancer and is the most malignant tumor of the skin. It occurs when pigment-forming cells in the skin (called melanocytes) turn cancerous. These abnormal melanocytes may occur within an existing mole or arise spontaneously in normal skin. Individuals at highest risk to develop melanoma typically have a history of blistering sunburns and intermittent burning exposures to ultraviolet light. Additional risk factors include individuals with fair hair, light eyes, history of tanning bed use, numerous normal moles (more than 50), several atypical moles (more than 5), previous skin cancers, or a family history of skin cancer. Melanoma most frequently occurs on the back and arms of males, and on the back and lower legs of females.

Melanoma has the ability to spread to other organs (metastasize) through the blood or lymphatic systems. The tumor’s ability to metastasize depends on the type of melanoma and how fast it is growing. Melanoma affects approximately 68,000 Americans each year, and results in 7,900 deaths. The incidence of melanoma is rising at a faster rate than any other cancer and is currently estimated to affect 1 in 50 individuals. Survival rates for patients with melanoma are directly related to the thickness of the tumor, presence of metastatic disease, and tumoral ulceration, amongst other criteria.

What does Melanoma look like?

The appearance of malignant melanoma can vary significantly. Be aware of the ABCDE rules to help identify melanomas: Asymmetry (one half of a mole does not look like the other half ); Border irregularity; Color variation; Diameter over 6mm; and Evolution (changes in size, shape, color, or texture).

Any skin lesion which grows, bleeds, changes size, or fails to heal should be promptly examined by your dermatologist.

How is an Malignant Melanoma diagnosed?

During a skin examination, your dermatologist will identify and biopsy any suspicious lesions. The skin sample is sent to a laboratory and processed before very thin slices of tissue are cut and placed onto a slide. Your dermatopathologists will look at the slide under a microscope and make a diagnosis. The result is presented to your doctor in a final dermatopathology report.

What are the treatment options for actinic Malignant Melanoma?

Your dermatologist will consider your general health in addition to the size, location, and subtype of your skin cancer before determining the best individualized treatment course for you. Melanomas need to be surgically removed, and your physician will take wide margins when excising the melanoma to ensure that the entire cancer is eradicated. Depending on the stage of melanoma, your physician may recommend a concurrent lymph node biopsy to determine whether the disease has metastasized. If metastasis is detected, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be indicated.

What can I expect after a diagnosis of actinic Malignant Melanoma?

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of melanoma is essential to ensure the best possible outcome. When a melanoma affects only the top layer of skin (the epidermis), it is called a melanoma in situ and typically has an excellent prognosis.

The term malignant melanoma is used when the tumor has invaded the second layer of skin (the dermis). Once you have been diagnosed with a melanoma, it is essential to schedule regular appointments with your dermatologist, usually every 6-12 months for the rest of your life. Your risk of developing another melanoma is highly increased. Your physician will monitor you for recurrences of the prior melanoma, signs that the melanoma may have spread to other organs and also check your skin for new lesions.

How can I protect myself from melanoma?

The frequent use of an appropriate broad spectrum sunscreen, protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats are critical in preventing further damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When planning outdoor activities, attempt to avoid peak hours of ultraviolet exposure, which typically occur from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 30, and reapply every two hours and after each water exposure. Seek the shade and be conscious of ultraviolet reflections from water and snow. Do not use indoor tanning facilities. Be sure to perform monthly self skin examinations and immediately report any suspicious lesions to your dermatologist.

Where can I get other information about Malignant Melanoma?

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