Many of the questions we receive here on SkinCancerConnection
are about melanoma skin cancer. This is no surprise as melanoma
is the most deadly type of skin cancer. Although melanoma accounts for only three percent of all skin cancer cases, it is the cause of more than 75% of skin cancer related deaths. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 114,900 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the US in 2010 and 8,700 resulted in death. In fact, it is estimated that one person dies of melanoma almost every hour. The good news in all these dire statistics is that if caught early, melanoma can usually be successfully treated.
To answer some of our reader questions about melanoma skin cancer, we have enlisted the expertise of Doctor Lawrence Green, a practicing dermatologist, to discuss this very important topic.
If you want to find out more about Doctor Green please visit his website: Aesthetics, SkinCare & DermaSurgery.
Question:** What are the stages of melanoma?**** Dr. Green:** The earliest classification of a melanoma is when it is removed or caught at the "in situ" stage. It is referred to as "melanoma in situ." This means the melanoma is confined exclusively to the upper layer of the skin called the epidermis and has not yet penetrated to the lower layer of skin from where it has potential to spread to lymph nodes or in the blood stream. Melanoma at this stage really has no risk of causing metastasis, or spread.
Once melanoma has spread into the dermis, a lower skin layer level, it theoretically has the chance to enter lymph nodes or the blood stream and metastasize elsewhere in the body. One of the main things which is correlated with melanoma risk for metastasis is how deep it has spread through the skin layers. A skin pathologist who looks under a microscope at the melanoma (after the dermatologist has removed it) will determine how thick the melanoma is and give a measurement.
Currently, if a melanoma is greater than one millimeter thick, it is recommended to check lymph nodes for metastatic disease. Sometimes , on thinner skinned areas of the body like the face and neck, lymph nodes will still be checked in a melanoma less than one millimeter thick. Melanomas that involve the dermis, but have not spread to lymph nodes and are not metastatic are called stage one melanomas.
Question: How do I know if I have melanoma?** Dr. Green:** A mole that is changing in size, shape, or color over a matter of months is suspicious for melanoma. However, the only definitive way to diagnose a melanoma is to have a dermatologist completely remove a suspicious mole and then have the skin pathologist look at it under the microscope.
Thank you Dr. Green for taking the time to answer these questions.