Malignant melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigment.  Risk factors include over exposure to sunlight and tanning beds. Other risk factors include fair or light skin, a tendency to burn easily and history of severe sunburns, atypical moles or a lot of moles, and a family history of melanoma. While anyone can develop melanoma, presence of the above risk factors increases the likelihood.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive skin cancers and can quickly spread to vital organs in the body so close monitoring for the development of abnormal moles and other signs of melanoma is essential.  Melanoma can develop on normal skin or on an already existing mole and can take on a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  When checking your skin for atypical moles and growths, the ABCDEs of Melanoma is a helpful guide to identify potentially worrisome growths.

  • A-symmetry: 2 sides of the mole are of different sizes and shapes
  • B-order Irregularity: Borders are scalloped, irregular, notched, or hard to find
  • C-olor variation: Multiple colors (black, brown, red, white, blue) within the same growth
  • D-iameter: Larger than 6mm (size of pencil eraser)- although melanoma CAN be smaller
  • E-volution: Any growth that evolves or changes rapidly in size, shape, color

The prognosis for melanoma generally depends on the depth of tumor invasion.  For melanoma that has not spread beyond the uppermost layer of the skin surgical removal of the tumor is nearly 100% curative. If the tumor penetrates beyond the first layer of skin, the survival rate begins to fall.  If left untreated melanoma can grow into the blood vessels and invade local lymph nodes before spreading to other areas of the body. A procedure known as a sentinel lymph node biopsy identifies the node or group of nodes the melanoma has invaded.   Removing affected nodes may prevent the melanoma from traveling farther.  Radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other treatment modalities may be used to treat melanoma that has spread.