Updated 11 February 2021
Symptoms of MelanomaMelanoma occurs in three stages and appears as:
- A tumour or lesion on the epidermis (this is an in situ melanoma),
- A tumour that spreads down to the dermis (this is an invasive melanoma), and
- A tumour that spreads through tissues and organs (this is a metastatic stage).
- Colouration - melanoma can appear as a dark brown, blue, tan, black, light grey or red colour.
- Itchiness - there are melanomas that tend to be itchy.
- Tenderness - some melanomas are tender to touch.
- Bleeding - there are melanomas that may easily bleed.
What is responsible for Melanoma?It is believed that melanoma may in some cases be hereditary. There are people that are at a high risk of developing melanoma if they have a family history of the condition. Other than genetics, melanoma is known to be caused by an overexposure to the harsh radiation from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It may also occur in people who expose themselves to sunbeds and other similar devices whilst trying to get a tan. It is also believed that fair-skinned people are at a higher risk of developing melanoma, as well as individuals with more moles. There are known cases of melanoma developing not just on parts of the skin that are exposed to sunlight, but also on regions where the skin is not frequently exposed, such as the palm of a hand, sole of a foot or even in a person's mouth.
Diagnosing MelanomaA GP can physically examine the skin condition in its early stage. Based on the history, clinical features and appearance of the lesion, your doctor may be able to accurately diagnose the skin cancer as melanoma. However, some melanomas can be hard to clinically identify. A doctor will usually either take a small sample of the lesion for testing, or conduct a total excision and send the removed lesion for testing. Depending on the results of the pathology tests, a wider margin may need to be excised to ensure all of the melanoma has been removed. Other tests include blood tests, imaging such as CT, PET scan, X-ray, and MRI. However, for those patients suffering from stage 1 or 2 of this skin cancer, tests would not be necessary except where there are clear signs of a recurrence of the cancer or if metastasis has occurred.
How is Melanoma Treated?Typically, surgery is recommended after a melanoma diagnosis and this usually involves a wide localised excision performed on the primary site of the melanoma. Surgery to remove melanoma may be extensive as it all depends on the location and size of the lesion. In Australia, there are recommended clinical margins for surgery depending on the size and site of the melanoma. Before surgery is performed, a melanoma specialist may perform 'melanoma staging'. This is where your doctor tries to find out the extent to which the skin cancer has expanded from the primary site to other parts of the body. Where there is a significant spread of melanoma, the extent of surgery may be much more extensive and may include other treatment like chemotherapy.
Recovery from Melanoma SurgeryRecurrence of melanoma is a real possibility, so follow-up checks and examinations are necessary after surgery. As with all cancers, early diagnosis is key to the level of success of treatment. Follow-up examinations will also help to detect any new melanoma, as it is known that an invasive secondary melanoma occurs in between 5 to 10% of patients. It is therefore important that you go for routine examinations as scheduled. Follow-up appointments may involve a physical examination by your doctor and this usually means:
- A physical examination of the site and scar from the surgery,
- The feeling of the lymph nodes around the site of the removed melanoma,
- A thorough physical checkup, and
- A complete examination of the skin.