What is Melanoma?

While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it is by far the most serious type of skin cancer.  If allowed to grow, malignant melanoma can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.  It has the potential to by deadly.  However, if found early, melanoma is highly treatable. 

Melanocytes are cells found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. These cells produce melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation. That's why melanomas often present as dark brown or black spots on the skin. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer.

What does a Melanoma look like?

Melanoma can present in number of ways:

  • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.

  • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.

  • Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.

  • Brown or black streaks under the nails.

  • A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.

  • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that looks like a scar


Use the American Academy of Dermatology's ABCDEs as a guide for assessing whether or not a mole may be becoming cancerous:

  • Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.

  • Border: The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.

  • Color: The mole is not the same color throughout.

  • Diameter: The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.

  • Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.

What are the causes of Melanoma and who gets it?

Anyone can get melanoma.  Most individuals are fair-skinned but people who have darker skin types also get melanoma.  Your risk of getting melanoma increases with UV-radiation exposure (tanning beds, sun).  

Research shows that your risk increases with:

  • Using indoor tanning beds before age 35 increase your risk of melanoma by 59%

  • Had 5 or more blistering sunburns between ages 15-20, your risk increases by 80%

  • Live closer to the equator

  • Live in a sunny area of the US like Florida, Arizona

  • Not using sun-protection

  • If you have fair skin, red/blond hair, blue/green eyes

  • Having 50+ more moles, large moles, history of atypical (dysplasia) moles

  • Having a personal history of melanoma or other types of skin cancer

  • Having a disease that weakens your immune system

  • Having a family history of melanoma

When should I see a dermatologist?

 You should see a dermatologist for evaluation if you have:

  • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.

  • Dark lesions on the palms and soles, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.

  • Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growth.

  • Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.

  • Brown or black streaks under the nails.

  • A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.

  • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that look like scars.

How is a melanoma diagnosed?

Diagnosing a melanoma requires a careful examination of the moles and suspicious spots.  Dermatologists may use a device called a dermatoscope during your exam, to get a better closer look at the mole. Dermatoscopes highlight the pigment and structure of the mole.  A skin biopsy that can be performed in the office is required for a suspicious spot.  A skin biopsy is quick, safe, and easy.   During the skin biopsy, the suspicious lesion is removed and the sample will be sent to a laboratory to be analyzed under a microscope. If the biopsy reports states that a patient has melanoma, the report will also indicate the stage of the melanoma.  The stage indicates the depth of the cancer in the skin.  Depending on the stage of the melanoma, a lymph node biopsy may be recommended to stage the melanoma and to see whether the melanoma has spread.

What are treatments for melanoma?

The recommended treatment will depend on the depth of the skin cancer into the skin and whether it has spread to other parts of the body

Some of the treatments for Melanoma include:

  • Excision — This is a surgical treatment where the tumor is removed and cut out with some normal-looking skin around the tumor. When the cancer has not spread, it is often possible for a dermatologic surgeon to remove the melanoma in the office as an outpatient procedure. Your dermatologist will stitch up the area after the excision. The removed skin is also sent out to the laboratory to ensure that the normal skin is free of the melanoma.

When caught early, removing the melanoma with excision may be all that a patient needs.  If the melanoma grows into just the outer layer of the skin, it is considered the earliest stage and called melanoma in situ (stage 0).  The cure rate with surgical excision for a melanoma in situ is 100%.

When the melanoma grows deeper into the skin a multidisciplinary team consisting of a dermatologist, medical oncologist, and a surgeon may be involved to discuss the appropriate treatment plans.  With advanced melanoma, treatments can get more complex involving:

  • Immunotherapy – treatment that helps the immune system fight the cancer

  • Lymphadenectomy – surgery to remove the affected lymph nodes

  • Chemotherapy – medicine that kills the cancer cells

  • Radiation therapy – X-rays that can kill the cancer cells

  • Clinical Trials – being part of a medical research that studies a medicine/other treatments for melanoma.

Our board certified dermatologists and providers here at Integrated Dermatology will discuss with you your treatment options based on the depth and the stage of the melanoma.

What is the outcome if I receive treatment for a melanoma?

With the earliest stage when the melanoma is only in the top outer layer of the skin, the cure rate is 100% with treatment.  If the melanoma has grown deeper into the skin or metastasized to other parts of the body, it can lead to death.  It is imperative that you seek a dermatologists to diagnose melanoma at its earliest stage.

Why should I choose Integrated Dermatology to diagnose and treat my skin cancer?

Our board certified dermatologists and providers are experts in the field of dermatology and can properly diagnose and treat all types of skin cancers.  Our experts perform complete body exams and skin cancer examinations routinely and can accurately diagnose various types of skin cancers. Our dermatologists are also trained as dermatologic surgeons and can treat different types skin cancer to the gold standard of care.  Any suspicious lesion will be biopsied and sent out for analysis at a laboratory.  We work with specialized physicians called dermatopathologists that have expert training in properly diagnosing skin cancer under the microscope.  We also have relationships with a network of physicians and melanoma experts that we consult with to ensure out patients received the highest level of care.

Worried that you may have melanoma?