Malignant melanoma is a form of skin cancer. The term “malignant” means cancerous.
This skin lesion, also known as the “black mole”, arises in the melanocytes (pigment producing cells of the skin). Unlike other forms of melanoma, malignant melanoma can actually become a severe health threat to the patient depending on metastasis (cancer spread).
Although it is a rare disease, malignant melanoma can occur in a patient at any age, anywhere on the body. It rarely, however, occurs during adolescence.
- Number: Having 100 or more moles increases you risk of developing malignant melanoma.
- Family History: 10-15% patients develop malignant melanoma have a parent or sibling with the disease.
- Immune System: Malignant melanoma is more likely to develop in patients whose immune systems are weakened due to organ transplants and certain medications.
- Sun Exposure: Over exposure to the sun’s radioactive rays, especially in adolescence, may lead to malignant melanoma development.
- Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome or Lentigo Malignant Melanoma: These skin lesion disorders may lead to malignant melanoma development.
- Xeroderma Pigmentosum: This rare, heredity skin disease caused by a defect in the enzyme that normally repairs ultra-violet damaged DNA may lead to malignant melanoma development.
- Age: 57 is the average age of diagnosis, but may appear earlier in life.
- Sex: Men are more prone than women to develop this type of skin cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common technique to remembering the signs and symptoms of malignant melanoma is the acronym ABCDE:
- Asymmetrical skin lesion
- Border of area is irregular
- Color varies from brown, to tan or pink
- Cracking, bleeding, and itching can also occur.
- Diameter of mole is greater than 6mm causing pain and sensitivity
- Evolution of mole is a sign of malignancy
The prognosis of malignant melanoma is typically positive unless metastasis (spread) has occurred. A patient’s prognosis varies greatly on the time diagnosis, overall health of the patient, and the size, location, and behavior of the skin lesion.
If malignant melanoma runs in a patient’s family line, it is advised to have annual skin examinations. Self-examination is also effective. Taking progressive photographs will better help a skin care physician or doctor observe the lesions progression. Everyone should to wear quality sun screen with an SPF rating of 30 or more.
To diagnose malignant melanoma, an excisional biopsy is performed to remove part of or the entire lesion. Removal of the entire lesion often not recommended because it commonly results in cancer recurrence. A punch biopsy is the diagnostic method of choice. This procedure involves taking several small samples of the lesion to be examined in a laboratory
Once a patient has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the next step is to remove the abnormal skin lesion. This usually leaves a scar. Surgery, where a wide, local incision is made is the most common treatment modality; however, surgery results in a high risk of lesion recurrence.
Cryotherapy (the use of extreme cold to kill cancer cells) may limit the progression of the melanoma. Ionizing radiation, or radiotherapy, is often used to control the spread of melanoma. Studies, though, yield mixed result regarding the effectiveness of radiation to treat melanoma.