Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes, which are the cells that make melanin and give skin its color. When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. This also happens when skin is exposed to other forms of ultraviolet light. If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This condition is called melanoma.
The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole. But melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole. Men most often find melanoma on the upper body, between the shoulders and hips as well as on their head and neck. Women often develop melanoma on their lower legs. Those who have darker skin will find that melanoma can appear under their fingernails or toenails, the palms of their hands, or soles of their feet. Although these are the most common places on the body for melanomas to appear, they can appear anywhere on the skin. It is important to always examine your skin to check for new moles or changes in moles.
Melanoma is a serious and sometimes life-threatening cancer. If melanoma is found and treated in its early stages, the chances of recovery are very good. If it is not found early, melanoma can grow deeper into the skin and spread to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body beyond the skin, it is difficult to treat. A biopsy of the suspicious mole or growth will be done in the office to confirm the diagnosis.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, the entire growth is removed along with a surrounding border of normal skin as a safety margin. The skin around the surgical site is then closed with stitches, and the excised tissue is sent to the laboratory for microscopic examination to verify that all malignant cells have been removed.