Feel Confident in Your Skin
Did you know that around 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they reach 70? This makes it the most common form of cancer in the United States, which is why it’s important to not brush off a suspicious mole or spot — especially if it may be melanoma.
Though melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, its increased likelihood of spreading to other layers of the skin and parts of the body makes it the most dangerous. Reducing your risk of developing melanoma starts with learning more about it. Keep reading to find out what causes melanoma, what it may look like, and effective treatment options available today.
What is malignant melanoma?
Melanoma is a rare form of skin cancer that begins in the epidermis. The epidermis is the uppermost layer of skin and is composed of three different types of cells: basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocyte cells.
Melanoma develops in the melanocytes, which are the skin cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives skin its tan or brown color). When melanocyte cells become mutated, they begin to reproduce out of control. This process of rapid cell reproduction is what we call cancer. Malignant melanoma occurs when these cancerous cells spread to other parts of the skin or body.
Similar to other forms of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma is most likely caused by excessive and unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as from the sun or tanning beds.
Over time, excessive UV exposure damages cell DNA, causing cell mutations, which can make your cells reproduce out of control and spread to other parts of the body.
Compared to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. This is because melanoma has a much higher chance of invading surrounding tissue and spreading to other parts of the body if not detected early enough.
If melanoma goes unnoticed and spreads to nearby lymph nodes, the survival rate is around 65%. If melanoma spreads to other, more distant parts of the body, the survival rate is about 25%. This is why it’s essential to have regular skin evaluations with a board-certified dermatologist. Early detection is key to providing timely and effective treatment.
A diagnosis of melanoma typically begins with a thorough skin evaluation to rule out other forms of skin cancer and skin lesions.
Following an evaluation, the physician or board-certified dermatologist will ask questions regarding symptoms, such as when the mole or growth first appeared and if it has shown any bleeding, oozing, crusting, tenderness, or if it has evolved or changed over time.
If a physician or board-certified dermatologist suspects the spot or growth to be melanoma, then a biopsy is usually performed. A biopsy is used to determine if the cells are malignant or benign. This helps determine the right course of action regarding treatment.
Yes, there are five stages of melanoma you should be aware of. These five stages include:
- Stage 0 (melanoma in situ) – cancer is in the early phase and confined to the top layer of skin.
- Stage 1 – cancer has spread deeper into the skin and has a thickness of 1 millimeter to 2 millimeters.
- Stage 2 – cancer is still only in the skin with no sign of spreading but has a thickness greater than 2 millimeters
- Stage 3 – usually means the melanoma has spread to either nearby lymph nodes or between the melanoma and lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 – cancer has invaded surrounding tissue and spread to other, more distant parts of the body.
If melanoma is detected in its earliest stages, the 5-year survival rate is around 99%. This is why we recommend adults perform a monthly skin cancer self-exam and see a board-certified dermatologist for yearly checks to uncover any suspicious spots or abnormal moles. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!