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Most of us have small, brown moles on our bodies. It’s normal for these moles to be either flat or elevated. But if a mole changes color, gets bigger, or takes on an irregular shape, it could be melanoma.
Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer. It is also the most deadly skin cancer if it spreads to other parts of the body. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports cases of melanoma increased 800 percent in young women age 18 to 39 and 400 percent in young men in the same age group from 1970 to 2009.
Melanoma is caused by environmental and genetic factors. Excessive sun exposure is a major cause. In Michigan, one of the rising risk factors is tanning bed use. Research shows indoor tanning increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
Melanoma symptoms include rapid changes to the shape or color of a mole or skin spot, or regular bleeding from the lesion. Often, melanomas are more than 6mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser).
If you or your dermatologist notice a suspicious mole during a skin cancer screening, we’ll perform a biopsy to determine if it’s melanoma or another skin cancer or condition. Melanoma is curable if it is detected at an early stage. The five-year survival rate for melanoma that has not spread is around 98 percent.
We generally perform surgery to remove the melanoma and a border of normal-looking skin around it. This is to ensure we remove as many cancer cells as possible. We also may need to remove the sentinel lymph node to keep it from spreading further.
We take a team approach to treating melanoma. Our tumor board -- composed of medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and support staff members -- meets to review every patient’s case and discuss options for treatment.
We’re working toward perfecting Mohs surgery for melanoma. This is a tissue-sparing procedure that involves the removal of as little healthy tissue as possible. Mohs surgery often is used to treat basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
After surgery, your doctor may recommend additional treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy to reduce the risk of your cancer coming back.
Henry Ford also is making great strides in immunotherapy clinical trials for metastatic melanoma (cancer that has spread to other areas of the body). We offer treatments similar to the one used to treat former president Jimmy Carter’s melanoma. These treatments work with the body’s immune system to target and fight cancer. Nationally, new drugs for advanced melanoma are in development.
Depending on your condition, you may be referred to our Henry Ford Pigmented Lesions Clinic. Specialists in the clinic will see you at regular follow-ups to monitor skin changes.