Melanoma is the least common but most aggressive type of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer occurs in melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for skin pigmentation found in the bottom layer of the epidermis (as well as the eyes, ears, and other parts of the body). This is one of the reasons that melanomas almost always appear as darkened spots on the skin. Non-cancerous moles are also clusters of melanocytes, which helps explain why moles and melanomas share certain physical characteristics. In some cases, melanomas and atypical moles can be difficult, if not impossible, for even highly trained dermatologists to tell apart without biopsy results.
Some melanomas form inside and grow out of typical moles, making it a good idea to self-monitor for any changes to existing moles. Unfortunately, melanomas can also occur in ways that make them more difficult to detect. They can occur in young adults before people routinely start skin cancer screenings. And while sun exposure increases the risk of melanoma, just like any skin cancer, melanomas can form anywhere in the body with melanocytes. Hidden melanomas may form in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingers, toes, scalp, and genitals. There also hereditary factors that make it more important to get regular skin cancer screenings if you have a family history of melanoma.
While any type of skin cancer can prove deadly if it metastasizes, melanomas are much more likely to reach these advanced stages. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know a little more about melanoma symptoms and what this type of skin cancer may look like.
- Melanomas come in many colors, but are most often dark brown, dark purple, or red. They also tend to be multi-colored or with different shades of color across the growth. Normal moles usually have a more uniform color throughout.
- Most melanomas have an irregular shape or cluster of shapes. They may also varying depths with sharply raised edges or with faded edges and shallower skin growths.
- Melanomas also tend to grow and change over time. They may change or take on additional colors. They may also harden and become denser if left untreated.
Given that any type of skin cancer should be treated promptly, it’s also a good idea to learn to recognize other skin cancer symptoms. If you have any reason to think you may have developed a cancerous skin growth, don’t wait to make an appointment with our local St. Louis dermatology clinic.
Melanoma Detection and Biopsy
An incisional or punch biopsy technique may be applied depending on the size and shape of the growth. Regardless, the entire tumor will be removed during the biopsy whenever possible. When it’s not feasible to remove the entire growth, the most troublesome parts of the tumor are removed as the focus of the biopsy. A biopsy will measure the thickness of the tumor while providing the information necessary to identify the type and stage of the skin cancer. A sentinel node biopsy may also be performed in which an injected dye is used to locate and remove the lymph nodes closest to the tumor. You can read more about what to expect with a skin cancer biopsy.
While melanomas are treated aggressively to match the increased risk they pose, biopsy and removal of the tumor may still be the only treatment that’s needed if the melanoma is detected early enough. With indications of more advanced-stage melanoma, a sentinel node biopsy and removal of nearby lymph nodes may also be recommended as part of the treatment plan. Lymph nodes are often removed if there is any ambiguity in the biopsy results or other troublesome signs. With advanced melanomas, additional treatment recommendations may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation. You can read even more here about what to expect from skin cancer treatment.