Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. Although it is not as common as other skin cancers, it is a very serious type. Skin cancers occur when the cells become abnormal and are not able to grow and divide in a normal manner. The abnormal cells begin to form a mass, called a tumor. Tumors will be either benign or malignant.
Benign tumors occur when the growths are limited to a few layers of skin and do not spread to surrounding cells or tissues. Malignant tumors are cancerous and can spread, or metastasize, to other areas of the body. While most skin tumors are benign, a melanoma is a malignant tumor. It can spread and cause tumors to begin appearing in other areas, such as the liver or kidneys. These tumors are often classified as a secondary cancer.
Skin cancers are named for the type of skin cell that is affected. For example, squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that affects the squamous skin cells. Melanoma begins with melanocytes. These cells are responsible for producing pigmentation and are located in the lower section of the epidermis. Melanomas can form from a freckle or mole that is already present. They can also grow in otherwise normal sections of the skin.
A melanoma looks different compared to moles and freckles. Normal moles and freckles have a uniform shape with a clearly defined edge and are black or brown in color. Melanomas have irregular shapes with uneven edging and have varying colors of red, white, brown or black, and sometimes a bluish mix. If an existing mole grows, changes in appearance, or starts bleeding it needs to be examined by a medical dermatologist and a biopsy taken. Any growths that appear suddenly, and were not previously present, should also be examined.
Melanoma caught early, before it metastasizes, is referred to ask melanoma-in-situ. Melanoma-in-situ is curable and responds to treatment. The most common treatment is the surgical removal of the growth. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiation may also be used to ensure that the cancer cells are not active and the growth does not return.
The key to avoiding the occurrence of melanoma, and any other form of skin cancer, is prevention. Take extra effort to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when out in the sun. It is also important to perform regular self-checks, looking for changes in freckles and moles or the appearance of new growths.
Contact the certified dermatologists in any one of our various Orange County skin care centers to learn more about our treatment of melanoma.