What is Malignant Melanoma

Who Can Get Skin Cancer?

Malignant Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be potentially fatal. It occurs when melanocytes (pigment cells) grow out of control. These cells can metastasize and spread throughout the entire body via the lymph and circulatory systems. Melanocytes are normally located within the basal layer of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). These are the cells that produce the melanin that protects the cells of the skin by absorbing UV radiation. Although all people have the same quantity of melanocytes, people with darker colored skin produce more melanin and are less likely to experience significant UV radiation damage than individuals with lighter skin. Anyone can get melanoma.

The Relationship Between Moles, Freckles, Birthmarks, and Melanoma

Not all growths of melanocytes are cancerous or dangerous. For example, moles and freckles are the round spots on skin that form as a result of controlled melanocyte growth that increases melanin production within an area of the skin exposed to UV-B radiation. However, sometimes melanomas may develop within an existing freckle or mole. It is important to regularly monitor all surfaces of the skin for any changes. Approximately 75% of melanomas develop from skin that is normal in appearance. The following types of lesions are known to be precursors to the development of melanoma. Watch them carefully.

  • Normal Moles
  • Abnormal-Looking Moles
  • Flat Nevus (Brown Patch) in Sun-Damaged Skin
  • Large Congenital Nevus (Brown Birthmarks)

In Situ, Invasive, and Metastatic Melanoma

When melanocytes grow out of control, early recognition and treatment are critical. Intervention is necessary when melanocytic stem cells undergo the genetic changes that cause them to proliferate uncontrollably. There are three types of melanoma, further divided into several stages and substages.

In Situ: Confined to Epidermis (radial or horizontal growth phase)

Invasive: Spread into Dermis (vertical invasion through basement membrane)

Metastatic: Spread into Tissues and Organs (travel to lungs, brain, etc. via lymph and blood)

Know the Symptoms of Melanoma

It is important to know what the main symptoms of melanoma are. You should examine your body in front of a mirror and look at all areas with the assistance of a hand-held mirror. If you notice any areas of concern regarding any particular lesions, contact Allegheny Advanced Dermatology Center right away.

  • Change in Size
  • Irregular Shape
  • Irregular Color
  • Irregular Border
  • Inflammation
  • Oozing
  • Change in Sensation
  • Diameter Greater than 6 mm
  • Enlarging or Changing Appearance

Surgery and State of the Art Melanoma Treatment

Many types of surgical procedures, medications, and state-of-the art treatments are available to treat melanoma and halt its spread. The earlier it is detected, the more favorable the outcome. Testing, biopsies, and careful analysis will be involved to develop a personalized treatment plan with regular follow up visits. Contact Allegheny Advanced Dermatology Center to schedule an appointment. Call: (814) 944-7109.