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Melanoma

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer, which can be potentially deadly.  It can spread from the skin to other areas of the body.  When the melanoma cells spread, it may become life-threatening.  The incidence of melanoma has been increasing in people younger than 40 over the last several decades, which seems to be related to recreational tanning and sun exposure.  Approximately 100,000 people will develop melanoma in the United States in 2020 and 2.6% of the population will develop melanoma at some point in their lifetime.  About 6,800 people die yearly from melanoma.  This makes it a serious health concern.

Melanoma is composed of melanocytes (cells that make pigment in the skin).  These cells also make up normal moles.  In the case of melanoma, the melanocytes start to grow uncontrollably causing cancer.  About 30% of melanomas will develop in a pre-existing mole while the rest will arise on previously normal skin.  Because melanocytes produce pigment, melanoma usually looks like a dark brown, irregular mole on the skin that has changed or grown.  However, melanoma may appear as a brown streak under a nail or a discolored sore inside the nose, mouth or eye.  Rarely, melanoma may be a pink bump and appear as a non-healing sore on the skin.

What Causes Melanoma?

While the exact cause of melanoma is unknown, it appears to be related to intense ultraviolet (UV) light exposure and genetics.  People with light complexions, blonde or red hair, blue eyes, childhood blistering sunburns and heavy freckling have an increased risk of melanoma.   Also having many moles (>50), having large atypical moles or a family history of melanoma are risk factors for developing this skin cancer.  While your inherited traits cannot be changed, your sun protection practices may lower your risk of getting melanoma.

How can I Prevent Melanoma?

Prevention of melanoma is key.  Dermatologists recommend avoiding the mid day sun between 10 AM and 4 PM.  If you must be outdoors, you should wear sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.  This should be reapplied every 2-3 hours while you are outside.  Sunscreen may be applied more frequently when swimming or sweating and it is best to use a sunscreen that is water resistant for 40-80 minutes for those activities.  Some of the most effective sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Mexoryl and avobenzone (Parsol 1789). 

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat with sunglasses and seeking shade under an umbrella while outdoors may also be very helpful in protecting from the sun’s harmful UV rays.  It is particularly important to avoid recreational tanning and tanning bed use as this has been linked to developing skin cancer.

How can I Detect Melanoma Early?

Early detection of melanoma is very important and improves the chances for survival.  If a melanoma is caught and treated in its earliest stages, it can be curable.  Dermatologists recommend that everyone perform a monthly self-skin exam paying particular attention to your moles.  There is a memory device called the ABCDE’s of melanoma that teaches people how to monitor their moles:
  • A is for asymmetry. If you draw a line through the middle of a mole and the two sides do not match, this is concerning for a possible melanoma.
  • B is for border. Normal moles have smooth round borders, but melanomas may have jagged, uneven or scalloped edges.
  • C is for color. Melanomas may have varying shades of brown, black, blue, white or red while normal moles tend to be one homogenous brown or tan color.
  • D is for diameter. Moles larger than 6 mm (size of a pencil eraser) may be concerning for melanoma.
  • E is for evolving or changing. Moles that have grown, changed shape/color, hurt, itch or bleed are worrisome for a melanoma.
If a mole is changing or looks worrisome, see a doctor or dermatologist immediately. They can evaluate the mole by checking it with a dermatoscope, a special instrument that magnifies the appearance in the skin. If the mole has atypical features, the dermatologist performs a skin biopsy. This is a minor procedure that is done in the office, which samples the abnormal skin lesion. This sample is then sent to a special laboratory and checked under a microscope by a dermatopathologist (a pathology doctor who is specially trained to look at skin). This testing then determines if it is a melanoma.

How is Melanoma Treated?

Treatment of melanoma usually requires surgical removal of the lesion on the skin to ensure all of the cancer cells are removed.  For early melanomas, this surgical procedure may be done in a doctor’s office and is often curative.  For deeper or more advanced melanomas, a surgeon may remove the skin cancer while the patient is under anesthesia and also sample the adjacent lymph nodes to check for spread of the cancer cells.  This is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy and is helpful in staging the melanoma. 

If melanoma cells are found in the lymph nodes this can indicate a poorer prognosis and usually warrants additional surgery or treatment.  When melanoma has spread beyond the skin, treatment may include chemotherapy or newer medications called checkpoint inhibitors.  In the last decade, new medical treatments have been developed and have greatly improved survival even in advanced cases of melanoma.

Additional Melanoma Resources

Links to Additional Information:

American Academy of Dermatology Melanoma Videos:

Why Iowa Dermatology Consultants?

Iowa Dermatology Consultants believes in a patient focused approach to care.  We work with patients forming an active partnership in treatment to help repair the physical and emotional damage of skin disease.  Our Ankeny and Ames locations allow us to conveniently treat patients across the Des Moines metro area and all of Central Iowa including Ames, Carroll, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Marshalltown, Huxley, Slater, and Indianola.  

At Iowa Dermatology Consultants, all of our physicians are board-certified dermatologists. Your care provided by Dr. Snider, Dr. Smith, or Dr. Myers is founded in knowledge and experience which exceeds that of a general practitioner.  Together they have almost 50 years of combined experience in diagnosing and treating a vast array of skin conditions.  This includes over 16,000 hours of patient care training to ensure that a board-certified dermatologist can expertly diagnosis and treat over 3000 dermatologic conditions.

Whether you’re coming to us for help with skin cancer or diseases like acne, psoriasis, and eczema; or to reverse the signs of aging with Botox, chemical peels or other cosmetic procedures, at Iowa Dermatology Consultants you will be getting the best dermatologic care in Central Iowa.

 

Let us Screen You for Melanoma

We are accepting new patients at our Ankeny and Ames locations.  We look forward to helping you with your skin care.

All online appointment scheduling requests are subject to physician schedules and operating hours.  You will be contacted within three business days to confirm date and time.