In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May, we are discussing melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer with around 5 million cases being diagnosed every year. There are different types of skin cancer, however we will be focusing on one of the more serious types of skin cancer known as melanoma. In this blog post, we will discuss melanoma in detail, as well as some of its classic warning signs.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. When melanocytes start growing out of control, then it is known as melanoma.
Melanoma tumors can occur on any part of the body, but it most often appears on the trunk (chest and back), head and neck, arms, and legs. Melanoma can also occur in the eye, mouth, and genital area. These tumors are usually brown or black in color, however they can also be pink, tan, or white, depending on the absence or presence of melanin.
Although melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, it is considered one of the more serious types of skin cancer. This is because it is more likely to grow and spread than other types of skin cancers.
Risk Factors for Melanoma
When it comes to preventing melanoma, one of the first things to do is assess your risk factors. Risk factors can increase the risk of developing a certain condition, so it is important to know the risk factors associated with melanoma. There are several risk factors for melanoma including:
- Excessive sun exposure and/or exposure to artificial sunlight (tanning beds)
- Having a family history of melanoma
- Fair skin that burns easily or doesn’t tan
- A large number of moles or abnormal moles
- A weakened immune system
Once you understand the risk factors for melanoma, then you can take steps to address controllable risk factors. While you may not be able to control things like your family history or skin color, there are several things you can do to prevent melanoma, including:
- Avoiding sun exposure during the peak hours of sunlight (between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm)
- Wearing protective clothing when you are in the sun, including long sleeves, pants, a hat, and sunglasses
- Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin
- Avoiding tanning beds
- Staying in the shade when possible
- Watch for abnormal moles
Early Detection & Warning Signs of Melanoma
The earlier melanoma is caught, the better. Be sure to perform regular self-checks and to see a dermatologist for a professional skin exam at least once a year. Warning signs of melanoma are also known as the ABCDE’s of melanoma and include:
The mole has an irregular shape, meaning that one half of the mole does not look like the other half.
The border of the mole is ragged, notched, or blurred
The mole has several colors or an uneven color. These colors can include tan, brown, black, white, red, or even blue.
The mole is larger than ¼ inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser). However, it is possible to have melanoma diagnosed that is smaller, so be sure to also consider other symptoms.
The mole is changing in size, shape, color, or other characteristics. One mole may also have a different appearance than other surrounding moles. Most moles are present at birth, so any new moles that form later in life should also be evaluated.
However, some melanomas may not have any of the traditional symptoms. In these cases, other warning signs to look for can include:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a mole into surrounding skin
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Itching, pain, or bleeding in a mole
- Change in sensation in the area of the mole. For example, you may feel numbness or tingling
- Change in the surface of a mole. For example, you may see scaliness, oozing, or bleeding
If you notice any of these warning signs of melanoma on your skin, be sure to see a dermatologist right away.
Treatment for Melanoma
The treatment for melanoma will depend on the stage of the cancer. If caught early, melanoma can often be treated with surgery. More advanced stages of melanoma may require additional treatment after surgery such as radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy.
Moh’s surgery is a type of skin cancer surgery that is often used to treat melanoma. Moh’s surgery involves removing the cancerous tissue layer by layer. Once all of the cancerous tissue has been removed, the surgeon will begin the process of reconstructing the area. In most cases, this surgery can be performed by a facial plastic surgeon and/or otolaryngologist (ENT doctor).
There are several different reconstruction techniques that can be used after Moh’s surgery. The type of reconstruction that is best for you will depend on the size and location of your wound. Some common reconstruction techniques include skin grafts, local flaps, and regional flaps. Your surgeon will also analyze the natural contours of your face in order to place scarring in discrete areas where they will barely be noticeable. Overall, this helps to restore a natural facial contour and appearance.
In this blog, we discussed melanoma, some risk factors, and how to prevent it. We also talked about early detection and warning signs of melanoma. Finally, we discussed treatment for melanoma and skin cancer reconstruction after Moh’s surgery.
Skin cancer is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. If you notice any of the warning signs of melanoma, be sure to see a dermatologist right away. Early detection is key in treating melanoma. If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you through your journey.