Malignant Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Although genetic susceptibility does play a significant role in the development of melanoma, there is no question that sun exposure is a chief culprit in causing many melanomas. For this reason, the incidence of melanoma has risen dramatically in recent decades.
Melanoma typically occurs in sun exposed areas of the skin, although it may occur on any skin surface, including the palms, soles, scalp and even mucous membranes. Typically it is characterized by a brown mole that becomes larger and darker. The ABCDEs of melanoma are helpful in determining if a mole may need to be checked by a dermatologist. They are as follows:
A- Asymmetry. Mole does not look the same on both sides B- Border of the mole becomes irregular C- Color variegation. Several colors are present in the mole, especially dark brown or black D- Diameter greater than 4mm (the size of a pencil eraser) E- Evolution: Mole appears to be changing over time.
It is important to note that many of these features may be seen in normal moles, however, their presence should prompt a skin check.
Melanoma is an unusual type of cancer in that, if it is caught early, it usually causes no further problems; however, if it has already begun to spread internally it is very difficult to treat. This is another reason to get frequent skin checks and to see a dermatologist if a mole appears to have changed. The treatment of melanoma is surgical: a complete excision with a margin of normal tissue is the standard of care and is often all that is necessary. If the initial biopsy reveals a somewhat deeper lesion, the patient may be referred to a general surgeon for a lymph node dissection. In advanced cases adjuvant chemotherapy may be utilized. In all cases continued skin surveillance is necessary as is sun avoidance.
Because melanoma is so easily treated when caught early, and because the prognosis becomes quite poor if it is caught late, prevention and early diagnosis are imperative, which is why dermatologists so often preach about sun avoidance and the need for skin examinations.