Melanoma is the deadliest of all the skin cancers. It takes more lives than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma combined. It is curable, but only if you catch it in the early stages. Through skin cancer self-exams and regular visits to your Manhattan dermatologist, you can discover melanoma early and nip it in the bud.
Melanoma is a dangerous form of skin cancer that — if left untreated or caught too late — can spread rapidly. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that more than 10,000 people die from melanoma every year in the United States. While it’s not the most common, it is the most deadly.
The cancerous growths that make up melanoma are formed when damage to your DNA causes mutations in your skin cells. Usually, skin damage is caused by too much exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun or from tanning booths. Melanoma tumors develop in the melanocytes — the cells that produce pigment in your skin.
If caught early, melanoma is highly treatable, just like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — the other, more common forms of skin cancer. Melanoma often is confused with moles and in fact can grow out of existing moles.
Causes of Melanoma
In addition to sun exposure, genetics and the number of moles you have, other risk factors that could make you more vulnerable to melanoma include:
- Previous bouts of any type of skin cancer
- Fair skin and light eye color
- Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, a condition that involves having unusual moles
- An immune system compromised by chemotherapy, lymphoma, HIV, AIDS, an organ transplant or excessive sun exposure
Because heredity plays a significant role in your risk factor for melanoma, when you get a diagnosis, your immediate blood relatives also should see a dermatologist to get tested for atypical moles and melanoma. If one first-degree relative has melanoma, you have a 50 percent higher chance of developing it than people who don’t have a relative with the disease.
Early Detection Is Vital for Treatment
You can get a head start on early detection by getting to know your skin as well as you can. Look over your skin from head to toe at least once a month, using mirrors (or an intimate partner) to check your back. Look first for new moles or other lesions. If the growth is bleeding, itching, changing size and shape and stubbornly refusing to heal, call your Manhattan dermatologist immediately for an appointment.
Melanomas usually follow an ABCDE pattern:
- A = Asymmetrical, when two sides of the lesion don’t match — draw a line down the middle of the growth; if the two sides are even, it’s usually benign)
- B = Borders that usually are uneven — benign borders typically are smooth
- C = Color that’s multifaceted — lesions are usually one color when they’re benign
- D = Diameter of a quarter-inch or larger — although very early detection can lead to pre-cancerous growths that are much smaller
- E = Evolve and change over time
Melanoma is a tricky disease because it may have just one of the above characteristics or all five. It can actually be a new mole or can develop out of an existing benign mole. Once it’s been diagnosed, the next step is to determine the cancer’s stage.
Various Melanoma Stages
When discovered early, melanoma is considered a Stage 0 or Stage I. At this point, it hasn’t moved into the deeper layers of your skin and is still non-invasive. Stage 0 and Stage I melanomas are usually small. Stage II melanomas are still local, but by this time, they’ve usually ulcerated and become considerably bigger and thicker.
The deadly skin cancer has metastasized by time it reaches Stages III and IV. In Stage III, it’s begun spreading to the lymph nodes closest to the tumor and possibly to other parts of your body. By Stage IV, the cancer has invaded your body through your lymphatic system or through the bloodstream.
You Need Quick Treatment
Your NYC dermatologist takes the surest, quickest action when diagnosing melanoma. The first step occurs in the office and involves a quick, nearly painless excision. Using just a local anesthesia to numb the area, your doctor or specialist cuts out the tumor. A few stiches and steady, persistent follow-up may be all you need.
Slow Mohs surgery, which involves staged excision and repair of the lesion, is being used more often to treat melanoma as well. With this technique, your doctor can determine how much skin to remove — a little at a time.
Advanced Treatment for Advanced Skin Cancer
Once the cancer has spread, you have to talk with your physician about your alternatives, which might include:
- The first step in this treatment was approved by the FDA in 2011. Further advancements have shown encouraging results with this cutting-edge cancer treatment.
- Targeted therapies and a combination of immunotherapy drugs continue to prove promising in the fight against this devastating skin cancer.
- This harsh cancer treatment is being phased out around the country with the advancements of immunotherapy and targeted drug therapies.
- Radiation. Depending on where the melanoma was located and if lymph nodes were involved, radiation may be recommended following the surgical removal of the cancer to reduce the risk of re-occurrence.
Preventive Steps Help Enormously
Summer isn’t the only time you have to worry about skin cancer. The sun is just as damaging in the winter, spring and fall — and it may be even stronger on many days. Sun protection factor (SPF) products of 30 or higher are recommended. Clothing, hats and sunglasses add another layer of protection against harmful, cancer-causing UV rays.
Staying inside, especially during the peak UV hours of 10:00 am to 2:00 pm goes a long way toward cancer prevention. If you do go outside, apply sunscreen every two hours, more frequently if you sweat or have been swimming. Don’t let your skin burn and just stay out of tanning beds. Give yourself regular self-examinations and make and keep your annual appointments with your NYC dermatologist. That’s one ounce of prevention that pays big, big dividends.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult dermatologist NYC about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified dermatology doctor or pediatric dermatologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have any questions about Melanoma treatment in NYC? Would like to schedule an appointment with an internationally recognized dermatologist in New York, Dr. Susan Bard of Manhattan Dermatology Specialists, please contact our Midtown NYC or Upper East Side NYC office for consultation with the Melanoma dermatologist.
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