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Everything You Need to Know About Melanoma Skin Cancer and How to Treat It

Mans forehead

Skin cancer is one of the most common malignancies that can affect people of all ages. The incidence of skin cancer is increasing annually, and it’s important for everyone to understand the different types of skin cancer and learn to identify the warning signs. Early detection of skin cancer can save your life. And that’s what CAPS is here to do: change your life for the better!

At the Dermatology Center at CAPS, our goal is to ensure your skin is healthy throughout all stages of life. During a skin screening, our board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Jaclyn Wetli, will perform a thorough evaluation of any moles, skin tags, or lesions on your body and diagnose skin conditions such as melanoma or other skin cancers that may require further attention. From there, we’ll develop a tailored plan to address your skin health needs.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that forms on the top layer of your skin when melanocytes, the cells that give our skin its tan or brown color, become abnormal and start to grow out of control. Although it is less common than basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma is the most dangerous because of its ability to rapidly spread deep in the skin, which then has the potential to spread to other organs if not treated in the early stages.

Types of melanoma

There are four main types of melanoma including superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna, acral lentiginous melanoma, and nodular melanoma. Each type slightly differs in how and where they form.

  • Superficial Spreading Melanoma: This is the most common form that tends to start on the surface of the skin for a longer time before growing deeper. It’s most likely to appear on the back of men and the legs of women.

  • Lentigo Maligna: This is most commonly seen in older adults on the surface level of sun-damaged skin.

  • Acral Lentiginous Melanoma: This is most common for people of color. It typically appears in places that are harder to spot including the palms of your hands and the bottom of your feet.

  • Nodular Melanoma: This is the most aggressive form of melanoma that grows deeper in the skin, more rapidly. It typically appears as a blackish-blue bump on the torso, legs, and arms.

How do you get melanoma?

The main cause of melanoma is overexposure to sunlight or sunburns. When you expose your skin to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, it causes skin damage and DNA changes that results in uncontrolled cell growth.

Who is at risk for melanoma?

You might be wondering if you’re at risk for melanoma. Although anyone can develop this form of skin cancer, there’s a higher risk for those who have the following features or conditions:

  • Fair-skin, freckles, or a high number of moles

  • Blue or light-colored eyes

  • Blond or red hair

  • Excessive sun exposure or frequent sunburns

  • A history of tanning bed use

  • A personal or family history of melanoma

  • A weakened immune system

If you feel you are at a higher risk, consulting a dermatologist is always a safe option. The Dermatology Center at CAPS is available to help.

Warning signs of melanoma

Although melanoma typically starts on the legs for women and the chest and back for men, it can develop anywhere on the skin. The neck and face are common sites because of their frequent exposure to the sun but they can even form in your eyes, mouth, genitals, nails, and internal organs.

Most cases of melanoma start on normal skin rather than moles, which is why it’s extremely important to pay close attention to any changes on your skin. But identifying potential skin cancer is tricky since they can appear differently. Most melanoma tumors appear black or brown but sometimes appear pink, tan, or white.

Since early detection of melanoma is highly treatable and vital to your long-term health, knowing how to spot it is a great first step to treating it. Use the “ABCDE” trick to identify the five warning signs that a spot on your skin could be melanoma.

  • A is for Asymmetry. When one half does not match the other it could be a sign of melanoma. Draw a line through the middle of the lesion to see if both sides are similar.

  • B is for Border. Melanoma borders are not smooth or even.

  • C is for Color. If it’s multiple colors such as different shades of brown, tan, or black, this is a warning sign. If it continues to grow, it may turn white, red, or blue.

  • D is for Diameter. If the spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, or 6.0 mm, this is another warning sign.

  • E is for Evolving. If the spot changes in size, shape, or color, this could be a sign that it’s worsening.

Treatment for melanoma

Melanoma is treatable if caught in its early stages. Since it can quickly spread and become fatal, if you have a suspicious spot on your skin, you should schedule a skin screening with our dermatologist, Dr. Wetli. During a skin screening, our dermatologist will perform a thorough evaluation of any moles, skin tags, or spots on your body to evaluate if it’s cancerous or requires further attention.

If a spot is cancerous, your dermatologist will need to perform a biopsy to remove it. If a biopsy result shows melanoma, the treatment depends on how deep in the skin the melanoma is present. Melanoma has multiple stages that help determine the best course of action.

  • Stage 0: The melanoma is only present on the top layer of the skin (epidermis).

  • Stage I: The melanoma is present on the top layer of the skin and slightly below (in the dermis). This stage has very low risk for spreading.

  • Stage II: This stage is indicated by the thickness of the tumor and indicates a higher risk of recurrence.

  • Stage III: The melanoma has spread to lymph nodes or nearby skin.

  • Stage IV: At this stage, the melanoma has spread past the original tumor site to distant lymph nodes, skin, or internal organs.

Schedule an appointment for a skin screening

While it is recommended that everyone has an annual skin screening, it is crucial for individuals who have risk factors that are mentioned above, are of middle to older age, have used indoor tanning beds or have a history of much sun exposure to have regular checks. If you are ready for your skin check, book an appointment with Dr. Wetli today! We accept most major insurance plans and service Columbus, Ohio and its surrounding areas. We look forward to helping you improve the health of your skin so you can look and feel your best.