If you do one thing to keep your skin health in check this summer season,…
Did you know that melanoma is one of the most common skin cancer diagnosed in the United States? Not to mention, it is one of the most dangerous, too. With the rates of this skin condition on the rise, many of our patients have several questions about melanoma skin cancer.
To help you get a better understanding of melanoma and how it may impact your health, we sat down with Dr. Greeson, M.D., one of the top dermatologists at Brentwood Dermatology! He expertly answered must-know questions about melanoma, such as what are its symptoms, how does it spread, and what are the top melanoma treatments.
Answering All Your Questions About Melanoma Skin Cancer
Where does melanoma skin cancer start?
Dr. Greeson told us, “Melanoma is a cancer of melanocytes, the cells in your skin that make melanin. The amount of melanin in your skin determines your skin color. When you increase sun exposure to get a tan, you are activating your body’s defense mechanism against damage to the DNA of your skin cells. In turn, melanocytes make more melanin to absorb UV (ultraviolet) light and protect your skin.
“Melanoma starts when a mutation in the DNA of a melanocyte occurs. The mutated cell then multiplies and grows into a tumor. UV radiation from the sun or tanning bed use can cause this mutation.”
How does melanoma skin cancer spread?
One of the most common questions we hear at Brentwood Dermatology is how skin cancer spreads—especially melanoma, which is arguably the most dangerous skin cancer.
Dr. Greeson answers, “Melanoma starts in the epidermis (top layer of the skin) and initially grows radially (sideways or horizontally) into the adjacent epidermis.
“At some point, the melanoma starts to grow vertically and becomes thicker. The prognosis for patients with melanoma is dependent on the thickness of the original lesion. As the lesion gets thicker, it is more likely to spread via lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes or to other parts of the body via blood vessels. Early detection of a melanoma is the key to a successful treatment outcome.”
What causes melanoma skin cancer?
Similar to our earlier question regarding where melanoma starts, Dr. Greeson expanded on the topic of what causes melanoma.
He told us, “UV radiation exposure is a major risk factor for melanoma. Studies have shown that one or more severe sunburns more than doubles the risk for melanoma later in life. Other risk factors for melanoma include being fair-skinned, having multiple nevi (moles), a history of atypical nevi, a family history of melanoma, or a very large congenital nevus (birthmark).
“The highest recorded incidence of melanoma worldwide is in Queensland, Australia, where fair-skinned people of British descent live in a tropical environment and have UV exposure from outdoor activities.”
What does melanoma skin cancer look like?
To help you get more familiar with melanoma, it’s important to understand how it might show up on the skin. Dr. Greeson gave us some insight into what melanoma skin cancer can look like.
“Melanoma is typically a dark lesion that is new or changing. Early melanomas are not symptomatic, so do not wait for a lesion to itch, bleed, or become painful before seeking medical attention.
“The acronym ABCDE is used to help patients and clinicians identify features of a skin lesion that may be a melanoma.”
This acronym stands for:
- A is Asymmetry of shape or color (one half looks different than the other half)
- B is irregular Border
- C is multiple or changing Colors
- D is increasing Diameter
- E is for Evolving (changing)
Furthermore, Dr. Greeson urges anyone who notices these characteristics in any skin lesion to seek medical attention straight away.
Is melanoma skin cancer deadly?
Many skin cancers do not have a high death rate… but is the mortality rate the same for melanoma skin cancer? Dr. Greeson gave us some insight into the current numbers.
He told us, “Approximately 6,850 Americans died from melanoma in 2020. The incidence of melanoma in the US is increasing and approximately 100,000 cases were diagnosed in 2020. However, the mortality rate (death rate) is decreasing due to new treatment options for advanced melanoma.”
How treatable is melanoma skin cancer?
Early detection of a melanoma is the key to a successful treatment outcome. But how are melanomas treated at Brentwood Dermatology?
Dr. Greeson shared his expertise with us: “Early melanomas can be treated by surgical excision with wide margins (wide local excision) as an outpatient procedure. As the melanoma grows, the complexity of treatment increases.
“Thicker melanomas require wide local excision, plus testing of the lymph nodes near the original lesion. This procedure is called sentinel node biopsy and is done at a hospital by a surgical oncology specialist. Genetic testing of the original lesion may also be performed.
“If the melanoma has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasized), then treatment by a medical oncologist and possibly a radiation oncologist is required. There have been significant advances in the treatment of metastatic melanoma over the past decade, and patients are now successfully treated with medications that stimulate their immune system to attack the cancer and remove it.
“In 2015, Jimmy Carter announced that he was being treated for melanoma that had spread to his brain and liver (Stage IV). He received radiation to the brain tumor and an immunotherapy drug (Keytruda) which caused his cancer to go into remission.
“Unfortunately, not all patients with advanced melanoma survive. Early detection is the key to successful treatment. Monthly routine self-examination (use a handheld mirror in front of your bathroom mirror and examine places you don’t normally see), as well as going to your dermatologist for full body skin exams are recommended.”
Expert Skin Cancer Treatment at Brentwood Dermatology
Have you noticed a suspicious spot or an atypical mole, or need to schedule your annual skin cancer screening? Get in touch with the expert board-certified dermatologists at Brentwood Dermatology! Our experienced team is here to help you with professional skin cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
Professional Dermatology Solutions in Brentwood, TN
If you’re interested in learning more about basal cell carcinoma or need to schedule your annual skin cancer screening, the expert team of board-certified dermatologists at Brentwood Dermatology are here to help. Schedule an appointment online or give us a call today at 615-377-3448!