A malignant melanoma is a severe kind of skin cancer. While it's quite rare, malignant melanoma is the cause of most deaths (75%) due to skin cancer. A mole that changes in color or shape should be checked by a doctor, as it can be a sign of premalignant or malignant melanoma. Melanoma is most often seen in men and is most common among caucasian people who live in a sunny climate. However, it can develop in anyone.
The cause of malignant melanoma is an uncontrolled expansion of the melanocytes, the pigment cells of the skin. Studies suggest that UV radiation is a major contributor to this melanocyte growth. Both sun exposure and tanning beds may cause melanomas. UV radiation damages the DNA within the cells, and this results in mutations in the genes. As the rapid cellular division occurs, those mutations are transmitted to new sets of cells. Soon, the growth rate can be uncontrollable, resulting in tumors.
Only a doctor can diagnose malignant melanomas. A malignant melanoma is typically asymmetrical, has an irregular border, has more than 1 color, and is more than 6 mm in size. Patients should also keep a close watch on wounds as they heal, because slow-healing lesions may indicate melanoma. The doctor performs both a visual exam and another type of skin exam, such as a dermatoscopic exam. Growths that are suspected to be malignant melanomas are typically biopsied.
An excisional skin biopsy — a biopsy that includes full removal of the growth and a small amount of the skin and tissue around it — is the preferred treatment for malignant melanoma. The biopsy allows for all layers of the skin to be checked. Melanomas often spread to the lymph nodes nearest to the growth, so the lymph nodes may be biopsied as well. If the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, lymph node mapping may be done to be certain exactly which lymph nodes are affected.
Feel free to email us regarding any scheduling or general questions!