Malignant Melanoma

//Malignant Melanoma
Malignant Melanoma 2017-02-09T15:56:27+00:00

 Malignant Melanoma – 5% of all skin cancers.

Malignant melanoma is a potentially serious type of skin cancer. It is caused by the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells, which are also called melanocytes and it appears as a spot on the skin that contains cancer cells.

Normal melanocytes are found in the basal layer (bottom part of the outer layer) of the skin. The melanocytes produce a protein called melanin, which protects the skin by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Non-cancerous growth of melanocytes results in moles (properly called benign melanocytic naevi) and freckles (ephelides and lentigines). Cancerous growth of melanocytes results in melanoma. Even where the spot appears small, as with any cancer, the cells can grow and invade other cells and other parts of the body.

Appearance A melanoma normally first appears as an unusual looking mole of freckle. It may be detected initially when it is just a few millimetres in diameter, or it may have grown to be quite large before it is detected.
The colours of a melanoma can range from tan to dark brown, black, blue, red or light grey. An amelanotic melanoma does not display any unusual colour. It may appear as a red spot or pimple on the skin. Initially melanomas are flat but with time they can become thicker and raised.
Some melanomas, but not all, may be itchy or sensitive to touch.
Location Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body. While they sometimes grow from within an existing mole, other times they come from skin that is otherwise clear. While many melanomas can be caused by sun exposure, they do not only appear in areas that are exposed to sun. Melanomas can also occasionally grow in other parts of the body such as the eye, mouth or vagina.
Who is at risk? Melanoma can develop in anyone – men and women, young and old, people of all skin types, sun worshipers and those who stay away from sun.
There are certain factors however that can increase you risk for melanomas. These include previous melanomas, a large number of moles, including large or unusual looking moles, being older than 50 years of age, family history of melanoma and previous types of skin cancer. Melanoma is also a greater risk for people who have fair skin or skin that burns easily and tans poorly. Lifestyle habits including the use of tanning beds or sunbathing can also increase the risk.
Treatment Melanomas must be removed surgically. The goal is to remove, not just the visible melanoma, but any affected cells that may be adjacent or below. Removal of the melanoma also allows for testing to determine the cancer type and severity. Depending on the depth and size of the melanoma stitches or a skin graft may be required to repair the area.

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

A – Asymmetry in the shape or color of a pigmented lesion

B – Irregular or jagged border

C – Variation in color, such as shades of brown, black, red or white

D – A diameter greater than 6mm (pencil eraser)

E – Evolution or a change in a lesion

Types of Melanoma

Melanomas are described and classified according to their appearance and behaviour.

  1. Superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) is the most common subtype. It is most commonly found on the back in men and on the legs in women.
  2. Lentigo maligna melanoma – is most commonly found in mature adults on sun damaged skin  on face, scalp or neck
  3. Acral lentiginous melanoma – melanoma on the soles of the feet, palms or under the nail
  4. Nodular melanoma – presents as rapidly growing lump and is an aggressive form of melanoma
  5. Mucosal melanomas are rare and found in oral and genital mucosa. They are dangerous as often go undetected early on

What happens after treatment?

After treatment for a melanoma follow up is important to detect recurrences and offers a chance for early detection of new melanomas.