Melanoma, or malignant melanoma, is the most dangerous and serious form of skin cancer. This is an area of your health with such grave and life-threatening consequences that it’s worth taking a few moments to understand why a small spot on your skin is so important, what to look for, and what options are available after a diagnosis from an experienced dermatologist.
Although malignant melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, fortunately, it is also the least common. This cancer affects melanocytes, the skin cells that produce natural pigment and give your skin its color. Skin cancer can be hereditary, so it’s helpful to ask your extended family members about their medical history, including melanoma, pancreatic cancer, and multiple nevus syndrome. Melanoma can also develop without any family history, sometimes linked to preventable sun exposure and UV damage.
When diagnosed early, up to 98% of patients with melanoma are completely cured. We welcome patients to ask a professional, licensed dermatologist for an exam in one of three ways. First, you can schedule a routine annual skin exam by contacting any of our Texas locations. Most dermatologists recommend one skin exam per year to monitor existing moles for changes or to spot new growths as early as possible. The second option is to make an appointment in our offices anytime you notice something unusual on your skin. This could be a chronic open sore, a new mole you’ve never seen before, an older spot that’s starting to grow or change shape, or a patch of skin that’s becoming raised, dark, or rough and isn’t healing. Even if the spot turns out to be completely harmless or a less-aggressive skin cancer such as Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma, we’re always happy to examine you and err on the side of your safety and health.
The third option is to take advantage of our Free Skin Cancer Screening events throughout greater Austin. Check online for our current schedule of dates and locations, and then stop by the event nearest you for a professional and safe exam.
Because melanoma starts in the melanocytes, this skin cancer usually appears as a dark spot similar to a birthmark or mole and can develop on any part of the body—even under a fingernail. Because they are easily mistaken for regular skin coloration, if you aren’t sure whether a spot on your skin is dangerous or not, it’s better to play it safe and visit a dermatologist. Regularly inspect all areas of your body in front of the mirror to watch for these common signs:
* An existing mole that’s changing in shape, size, color, or texture
* New spots or scaly patches on your skin that may look like a mole, freckle, or age spot and don’t disappear on their own
* Thick or rough patches of skin that look like a scar but increase in size instead of shrinking and healing naturally
* Dark streaks or darkened skin around/under fingernails and toenails
If your dermatologist sees signs of melanoma, biopsy will be performed that samples and tests a small patch of skin in the affected area to look for cancer. Depending on when the melanoma is detected, it could be diagnosed in one of five stages, from Stage I (only present on the top layer of skin) to Stage V (metastasized to a distant part of the skin or internal organ).
For your own health and safety, it’s critical that you tell your dermatologist at Tru-Skin Dermatology as much as possible about your medical history and lifestyle. That includes honest answers to sometimes very personal questions about your habits (smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, using tanning beds) and natural, alternative, or prescription medications you use. Your answers can impact what treatments are most effective, so being clear and upfront is the best thing you can do for yourself. Our team is focused on stopping and removing cancer, so we treat your personal answers with compassion and respect on the path to getting healthy.
While identifying and confirming the presence of a melanoma can be life-saving, it’s still a very overwhelming diagnosis to receive, with emotional angst and practical decisions about physical treatments all happening at the same time. When it’s time to hear the results of your biopsy, it’s completely acceptable to have a friend or family member with you if you feel nervous. You can also bring a laptop or notebook to any and all appointments so that you can jot down information you might forget later or track questions you’d like to ask at your next visit.
Finally, it’s up to you to decide how much detail you want from your doctor. Some patients would simply like to know the result and the top treatment we recommend so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Other patients might feel more empowered and in control if they get a detailed explanation of the possible cause, test results, and learn about all the possible next steps. While our medical providers will do our best to make sure you feel comfortable and have the information you need, don’t hesitate to ask for more detail or clarification at any time during your visits in our office.
Patients with melanoma typically opt for surgery to remove all traces of cancerous cells completely before they spread within the skin and into other parts of the body (called metastasizing). The right type of surgery will be a choice that you make in partnership with our dermatology team and might include Mohs surgery, excision, and lymphadenectomy (removal of the lymph nodes). Radiation and chemotherapy may also be recommended alone or in conjunction with a surgical procedure. You can read more about the types of surgeries available on our Skin Cancer page [https://www.tru-skin.com/medical-dermatology/skin-cancer]. Whatever the diagnosis and next steps, Tru-Skin Dermatology will be your expert partner in caring for your skin and your health.