Understanding the signs of serious forms of skin cancers can be an informative step for prevention and treatment. Melanoma is still one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, but when caught early, has great chances of being cured.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a malignant skin cancer that begins in the skin’s pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. They are located in the deepest layer of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. This form of cancer occurs when healthy melanocytes change and grow uncontrollably to form a tumor. When a tumor is malignant, that indicates that it can spread further into the skin and the body.
Seeing a board-certified dermatologist is the first step in the process of getting a proper diagnosis for skin melanoma. On your visit, they will ask for your family health history and perform a biopsy of the suspicious moles to determine through testing whether there are cancerous cells present.
Determining the extent
After diagnosing melanoma, the next step will be for the medical professionals to identify the stage and progression of the disease. When it comes to determining its stage, there are several factors that are taken into account:
Determining the thickness
Your doctor will examine the melanoma under a microscope and measure the tumor’s thickness; the thicker it is, the greater the chances of progression of the melanoma. If the tumor is thin, it may only require surgery to be removed if it hasn’t spread further.
Examining the lymph nodes
If there is a chance that the melanoma has progressed and spread, your doctor may recommend performing a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The sentinel nodes are the first lymph nodes into which a tumor drains. This is a procedure that tests whether cancer has spread to the sentinel nodes by inserting a safe radioactive dye in the area where the excision biopsy was performed. If the lymph nodes take up the dye, they will be removed and tested for cancer cells, if not, that most likely means that the melanoma has not spread beyond its initial growth.
Looking for further spread
If the melanoma is more advanced, further tests may be needed to determine whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. CT scans, PET scans, X-rays, may be performed to determine the stage and spread (metastasis) of the melanoma.
Melanoma is categorized into stages using Roman numerals from 0 to IV and letters A through D which indicate a bigger risk as the stage progresses. Breslow’s depth is also a measurement that is used to determine the depth in millimeters from the skin’s surface to the deepest part of the melanoma.
Melanoma treatment will vary depending on its stage, therefore it is crucial to consult expert doctors in order to determine the best alternative for each individual case.
During the early stages, the most common course of action is wide excision surgery in which cancer and some of the skin tissue surrounding it are removed. Depending on the stage lymph nodes may also be removed with surgery if there is a chance of cancer having spread to them.
Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that aids the immune system to fight cancer.
This type of therapy involves a drug treatment that focuses on targeting specific parts and weaknesses of cancer cells.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells, usually in the area where lymph nodes are removed.
Chemotherapy is a combination of powerful drugs that can be given intravenously or through pills in order to kill cancer cells.
Melanoma can be an aggressive type of skin cancer, but it is curable when caught early. Therefore, remember to get your skin checks with your dermatologist and also be attentive to any changes and irregularities of your skin at home.