Recognize and Treat Melanoma
Melanoma begins when malignant cells form in the outer layers of the skin. It can spread deeper into the skin and eventually to other parts of the body. It is the most serious type of skin cancer, currently the fifth most common in men and the seventh most common in women.
What Does Melanoma Look Like?
- Asymmetry: melanoma is often not symmetrical
- Irregular borders: melanoma often does not have a defined border
- Differences in color: colors may range from white or gray to blue, red, brown, and black (some lesions have more than one color in them)
- Diameter: most typical moles are less than 6 mm in diameter; melanoma can grow much larger
- Changes in the color, shape, and size of a mole or other skin lesion, or a mole that oozes or bleeds
- Satellite moles: new moles that pop up near an existing one
Risk Factors and Prevention
Although anyone can get melanoma, certain risk factors have been identified:
- Prolonged exposure to UV rays (sunlight, tanning beds, and sun lamps)
- Repeated sunburns
- Fair skin with freckles
- Blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes
- Having a large number of moles, or atypical moles
- Weakened immune system
- Family history of melanoma
You cannot do much about your eye color or skin type, but you can take some preventative measures:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to UV rays
- Use a 30+ SPF sunscreen (Dermatology and Laser Centre offers an excellent selection of medical grade skin care products with SPF.)
- Do regular self-examinations (once a month is good)
- See your doctor annually (or immediately if you find a suspicious looking lesion anywhere on your body)
There are several procedures for treating melanoma. Traditional surgery involves making a wide excision to remove the tumor and a margin of normal skin around it. Mohs micrographic surgery involves first removing the visible part of the tumor. Then thin layers are cut from the tissue beneath it and immediately examined. Repeated layers of tissue are removed until no further signs of cancer can be found.
Treatment options for melanoma vary depending on the stage and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and overall health. Most early-stage melanoma can be successfully treated; the key is to recognize the signs, get a diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible.