Diagnosing melanoma skin cancer

Treatment and care of cancer patients

A prognosis of melanoma skin cancer is a serious thing since it is the leading cause of skin cancer death. Melanoma is not incurable though and if diagnosed early can easily be treated. The danger comes from undiagnosed and untreated melanoma that spreads to other parts of the body and causes organ failure and death. Although not the most common form of skin cancer, it causes the most deaths.

The American Cancer society has estimated that 120,000 new melanoma cases are diagnosed in the US and about 160,000 cases are reported worldwide annually. 68,130 cases were reported to be invasive melanomas in 2010 consisting of 29,260 women and 38,870 men. 

Melanoma is a tumor of the melanin-producing cells, melanocytes. This means that aside from the skin, melanomas can occur wherever melanocytes can be found such as in the bowel and in the eyes. Typical melanomas are black or brown although there are white, blue, purple, red, pink, or even skin-colored.

Since melanocytes are mostly located on the skin, melanomas are often easily detected by the patients themselves. This is especially true if they are on an easily visible body part. This makes early diagnosis easy. With early diagnosis, treatment in the form of minor surgery is often highly successful.

Diagnosing melanoma is usually done by performing a biopsy. The biopsy is accomplished by removing the suspected portion of the skin by a physician under local anesthesia. The removed skin is then sent to the laboratory for analysis by a pathologist.

The prognosis of melanoma skin cancer is usually arrived at by measuring the thickness of the tumor. Thin melanomas that are less than one millimeter thick typically have a high cure rate. Thicker melanomas are progressively harder to treat, with cure rates decreasing with increased thickness. This is why early diagnosis of melanoma is extremely important so that treatment can be started before the melanoma grows thicker.

The usual treatment for melanoma typically involves surgery. Thinner melanomas require only relatively minor surgery to remove the melanoma and an additional one centimeter around the affected area of the skin. Thicker and more advanced melanomas on the other hand require more serious surgery.

Depending on the thickness, the location, and age of the tumor, the patient’s lymph nodes might need to be removed. Advanced cases where the melanoma has metastasized to other body parts may require more invasive treatment as well as immunotherapy.