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The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. 

What is Melanoma? 

Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer but is known as the most dangerous. Your Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute team is here to support you and answer any questions before a melanoma diagnosis, during treatment, and removal. We recognize that dealing with melanoma and skin cancer can be overwhelming and we’re here to see you through your treatment.

Melanomas occur when the pigment-producing cells that give color to the skin become cancerous. They often resemble moles and some do develop from existing moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue, or white. 

Facts About Melanoma 

Here are some facts to know about melanoma:

  • There were over 91,000 new cases estimated in 2018 alone in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society. 
  • Invasive melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. That’s why early detection and treatment are critical for your health.
  • Melanoma can affect all skin types and ethnicities but is most commonly diagnosed in white Americans, with an annual incidence rate of 26 (per 100,000), compared to 4 in 100,000 in Hispanics and 1 in 100,000 in African-Americans. 
  • Women tend to be diagnosed with melanoma more than men before age 50. However, by age 65, men are diagnosed twice as often and by age 80, three times more than women. 
  • The ACS reports the incidence of melanoma has risen rapidly over the past 30 years, with the increase mostly in men and women ages 50 and older.

At Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute, we remind our patients to be cautious with sun exposure, pay attention to their skin, and schedule an annual skin exam every year. Our team focuses on early detection and treatment of skin cancers since that leads to the best prognosis for our patients. An annual skin exam is a great way to help catch any concerns early on.

Melanoma Signs

In order to find a melanoma, you need to look at your skin for any lumps, bumps or moles. The ABCDEs of melanoma detection may help you sort out a normal mole from an atypical mole or melanoma. Melanomas can develop from a normal area of skin (skin with no moles or prior abnormal coloration) or from an existing mole or freckle.

The ABCDEs of Detection

(A) – Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half.

(B) – Border: An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.

(C) – Color: Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black; is sometimes white, red or blue.

(D) – Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser), they can be smaller.

(E) – Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest, or is changing in size, shape or color. A mole that is suddenly itchy, inflamed, bleeding, or scabby should also be examined.

The ABCDE rules do not apply to all melanomas. Some melanomas are perfectly symmetrical and have a light color. So, in addition to the ABCDEs, you should also use the following information to help screen for other suspicious lesions:

  • Elevated: Look for a new spot that is raised above the skin’s surface.
  • Firm: Look for spots that are firm to the touch, not flabby.
  • Growing: Look for spots that are fast-growing or continue to grow for more than two to three weeks.
  • “Ugly Duckling Rule”: This rule is based on the fact that an individual’s moles will tend to look alike. If there is a mole that doesn’t match the others (i.e., the ugly duckling), that mole should be examined.

One last tip on signs of melanoma: If you have a “bruise” on the palm of your hand or the sole of your foot that does not heal, or if you have an unusual pigment around your nail, these may also be signs of melanoma, so book an appointment with your Dermatologist today to get it evaluated. 

The best way to detect melanomas and skin cancer early is to be aware of any new or changing skin growths on your skin, particularly those that look unusual. Any new lesions, or a progressive change in a lesion’s appearance (size, shape, or color, etc.), should be evaluated promptly by a Dermatologist. 

Melanoma Prevention

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, many of the more than 5 million skin cancer cases diagnosed annually could be prevented by patients protecting their skin from excessive sun exposure and not using indoor tanning devices.

Some ways to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure include spending time in the shade when outdoors, wearing sunscreen daily with an SPF 30 or higher, not getting sunburned, avoiding tanning beds, and seeing a Dermatologist regularly for a skin exam. 

Book an appointment today if you’re due (or overdue) for your annual skin exam.

Risk Factors

Major risk factors for melanoma include a personal or family history of it and the presence of atypical, large, or numerous (more than 50) moles. Heavy exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or tanning beds is also a risk factor for all types of skin cancer. 

Risk also increases for patients who are sun-sensitive, which means they sunburn easily or have natural blond or red hair color as well as those who have a history of excessive sun exposure (including sunburns) or skin cancer. 

Treatment

The primary treatment for melanoma is excision or surgical removal of the primary melanoma on the skin. The thickness of the melanoma determines the scope of the surgery needed. Most melanomas are found when they are less than 1.0 mm thick, and outpatient surgery is often the only treatment needed. 

While melanomas can be very dangerous, medical advancements in detection and treatment are making a huge impact on melanoma treatments since the latest American Cancer Society (ACS) report shows a 94% survival rate (relative five-year survival rate) when in comparison, data from 1975-77 showed an 82% survival rate. 

What Happens During Melanoma Skin Cancer Surgery?

During your melanoma removal, your Dermatologist removes the tumor, the tissue found under the skin, and some surrounding healthy tissue, called a margin so that no cancerous cells remain.

Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute offers melanoma treatments at its Greater Reno-Tahoe area locations.

Learn more about skin cancer here.