FAQ: Melanoma

What is melanoma and what causes it?

Melanoma is a cancer of melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin, the pigment that is primarily responsible for giving skin its color.

What are the signs of melanoma and what do I do if I find a funny spot or mole?

The first sign of melanoma is usually the appearance of an unusual looking mole or changes to an existing mole. Use the ABCs to examine skin for signs of melanoma:

A – Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole don't match.
B – Border: A scalloped, irregular or poorly defined border.
C – Color: The color varies from one part to another.
D – Diameter: The size is larger than that of a pencil eraser.
E – Evolving: Changes in size, shape, color or appearance.

What are things patients should do for non-visible melanoma?

Melanomas can also develop in areas of your body that have little or no exposure to the sun, such as the spaces between your toes and on your palms, soles, scalp or genitals. These are sometimes referred to as hidden melanomas because they occur in places most people wouldn't think to check. An annual screening with a dermatologist is recommended.

What should I do if I notice a changing mole and what should happen next?

If you notice any of the above signs and symptoms, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. A dermatologist is a trained specialist that will examine suspicious moles and can determine if a biopsy is required. A biopsy is the only way to diagnosis melanoma.

How is melanoma treated?

The way melanoma is treated depends on how severe it has become. When discovered early, it is usually simple to remove the affected area. As the melanoma grows deeper or if it spreads beyond the skin, it becomes more difficult to treat. Once melanoma has been diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. The first step in treatment is the removal of the melanoma, and the standard method of doing this is by surgical excision. In most cases, the surgery for thin melanomas can be done as an outpatient procedure.

Is melanoma serious?

Melanoma is a dangerous type of skin cancer because it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Once it reaches the dermis (thick layer below the epidermis), melanoma can easily spread through the blood and lymph vessels. It is extremely important to find and remove melanomas early, so it is important to check your skin regularly!

What are the preventive measures you can take against melanoma?

The leading cause of melanoma is overexposure to damaging UV rays from the sun and artificial sources such as tanning beds. Tips for prevention include:

  • Wear Sunscreen. Make sunscreen a daily habit. UV radiation can still damage skin even in the winter and on cloudy days. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB rays) with SPF of at least 30.
  • Wear Protective Clothing. Protect your body with sun-protective clothing, hat, and sunglasses.
  • Avoid Peak Rays. Seek shade during the mid-day sun, when the sun's rays are most intense.
  • Don't Use Tanning Beds. Indoor tanning has been shown to increase the risk of melanoma by up to 75%. Melanoma is one of the top three cancers diagnosed in young adults (ages 25-29), and scientists attribute this trend to the use of tanning beds among this age group, particularly young women.
  • Protect Children. Just one bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles your child's chances of developing melanoma later in life.

Why are you passionate about treating patients with melanoma?

Dr. Nicole Nelson is a board certified general surgeon with Columbia Surgical Associates. She has been treating patients with Melanoma since 2014 and a physician since 2009.  To learn more about Dr. Nelson or to contact Columbia Surgical Associates please call 573-443-8773. We are located off Hwy 63 in Columbia Missouri off AC Exit.

To learn more about Melanoma, please call Columbia Surgical Associates at 573-443-8773 and schedule an appointment.