Melanoma is a malignant tumor of the skin, or melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce the dark pigment, melanin, which is responsible for the color of skin. These melanocytes usually begin as a change in an area such as a mole.
Melanoma typically presents as a brown or black spot with irregularities in symmetry, border and color. Melanoma may develop within an existing mole or on previously normal appearing skin.
A doctor should be consulted if any of the following occur:
- A mole that: - changes in size, shape, or color - has irregular edges or borders - is more than 1 color - is asymmetrical - itches - oozes, bleeds, or is ulcerated
- Change in pigmented (colored) skin.
- Satellite moles (new moles that grow near an existing mole).
Surgery to remove melanoma is the standard initial treatment. We remove the mole, and some normal skin around it, called the margin, to reduce the chance of recurrent melanoma. The width and depth of surrounding skin to be removed depends on the thickness of the melanoma and how deeply it has invaded the skin.
When the melanoma is very thin, the biopsy may remove all the cancerous tissue and no additional surgery may be necessary. For thicker melanomas, it may be necessary to take out a larger margin of tissue. Surgery alone may not effectively control melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. Other treatment may be required such as immunotherapy, biological therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these methods.