What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can develop from common and atypical moles as well as healthy skin. It is caused by a mutation in pigmented skin cells, known as melanin. This melanin is produced and delivered throughout the skin by cells called melanocytes. Sometimes excess melanin and melanocytes cluster together, causing moles. Within these clusters, melanocytes may mutate or trigger surrounding cells to mutate, causing skin cancer.
Why are melanoma screenings important?
Skin cancer screenings are the first line of defense against melanoma and other skin cancers. What may look like a common mole could actually be cancer. Regular melanoma screenings ensure that abnormal growths on the skin are detected before they spread and become hard to treat. The earlier melanoma is diagnosed and treated, the better. It’s much easier to completely remove melanoma in the early stages, and it’s also less likely to spread to other parts of the body if treated early.
What happens during a melanoma screening?
Patients who receive a melanoma screening at LA Laser and Skin Center can expect a quick and painless 10-15 minute exam. A skin cancer specialist will check the entire body for abnormal growths, paying close attention to size, color, border, and shape. If anything looks suspicious, a biopsy will be ordered.
Can a regular mole turn into melanoma? What are the warning signs?
It is possible for a mole to turn into melanoma, so keep a close watch on your moles. Immediately visit a doctor if you notice any changes in appearance. Below are warning signs that your mole may have turned into skin cancer.
- The color changes
- The melanoma gets unevenly smaller or bigger
- The melanoma changes in shape, texture, or height
- The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly
- The melanoma becomes hard or feels lumpy
- It starts to itch
- It bleeds or oozes
What treatments are available for melanoma?
Mohs micrographic surgery is a cutting edge skin cancer treatment performed by only the most highly skilled surgeons. The procedure starts with the removal of a small area of skin cancer, which is immediately tested under a microscope onsite to determine the location of the cancer cells in the sample. Patients remain in the operating room during testing. Once analysis pinpoints the direction of the cancer’s growth, another small layer of skin is removed and examined. This process continues layer by layer until all skin cancer cells have been removed. Click here to learn more about Moh’s micrographic surgery.
Electrodessication and Curettage
In the first step of this procedure, a curette is used to scrape out cancerous lesions. Next, an electrodessication tool is used to char the base and sides of the curetted area. The charred tissue is then removed. This process is repeated three times to ensure that all cancerous tissue is removed.
Cancerous growths can be surgically excised using either the shave or punch method.
- Shave Excision The shave method is used when the melanoma raises above the surface of the skin. A scalpel is held parallel the mole and then moved in a straight motion to remove the skin sample.
- Punch Excision The punch method is advantageous in flat growths where the shave technique would leave behind a visible divot in the skin. Using a specialized punch tool selected to fit the exact melanoma size, the instrument is pressed downward with a back and forth turning motion. Forceps are then applied to elevate the skin sample, and scissors are used to snip the skin from fatty tissue. Punch excisions require stitches to close the wound.
What type of melanoma do I have?
Superficial Spreading Melanoma
Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. While other melanomas are not likely to affect those under 50 years old, superficial spreading melanoma has a higher occurrence rate in this age group. This type of skin cancer grows along the top layer of skin. Because it takes such a long time for it to spread into deeper layers, it is very likely to be identified and treated before it becomes invasive.
Warning Signs The first sign is the appearance of a flat or slightly raised discolored patch that has an irregular shape and border. The color varies. You may see areas of tan, brown, black, red, blue or white. The melanoma can be found almost anywhere on the body, but is most likely to occur on the torso in men, the legs in women, and the upper back in both. This type of melanoma can occur in a previously benign mole, so be sure to monitor your moles for any physical changes.
Lentigo Maligna Melanoma
Lentigo maligna melanoma grows on the top layers of skin until it eventually thickens and invades deeper layers. This type of melanoma is most often found in the elderly, but can occur in younger people who experience excessive sun exposure.
Warning Signs Monitor skin that is chronically exposed to sun, especially damaged skin on the face, ears, arms, and upper torso. Look for flat or mildly elevated growths that have an irregular shape and are tan, brown or dark brown.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma
Acral lentiginous melanoma appears under the nails, on the soles of the feet, and on palms of the hands. Rather than developing within isolated clusters of mutated melanin like other skin cancers, this form of melanoma is most often found in skin that contains higher concentrations of melanin throughout the entire body.
Warning Signs People often do not notice acral lentiginous melanoma because it develops in areas that are commonly overlooked. Keep a careful watch for black or brown discoloration under the nails, on the soles of the feet, and on palms of the hands.
Nodular melanoma is the most aggressive form of melanoma. Unlike other types, it immediately spreads deep inside the skin. Appearing as hard bumps, nodular melanoma most frequently develops on the torso, legs, arms, and scalp. It is most common in men and elderly populations.
Warning Signs Keep a close watch for bumps on the skin that grow in unusual colors, such as black, blue, gray, white, brown, tan, or red.