Dear Dr. Basuk:
I didn’t realize how lucky I was thanks to you to be alive and spend it with my wife & grandkids. I will forever be thankful for you to have made a difference in the Quality of Life I have now.
J.S. (melanoma patient)
- In the United States in 2013: 76,690 people were diagnosed with melanoma; 9,480 died. Many of these cases are patients under the age of 50. (Source: National Cancer Institute of the NIH)
- It is the fifth most common cancer for men and the sixth for women.
- Melanoma accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases, but it causes more than 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.
- Melanoma is the most common cancer in adults 25-29 years old, and the second most common cancer for those 15-29 years old.
- One person dies of malignant melanoma for every hour of every day.
The disease gets its name from the skin cells that generate pigment – melanocytes – which, in this cancer, grow uncontrolled. [ Non-cancerous growth of melanocytes cause moles or freckles. ]
Even while appearing fairly small on the skin surface, it can be deep and can spread rapidly to other parts of the body. In our office we see quite a few of these every year. In fact, we generally find melanoma on many patients who come in for something quite different – they didn’t even know they had this problem. Melanomas are most often found on full-skin-exams, a service we are happy to provide our new patients. When found early, the cure rate – and, correspondingly, the survival rate – is very good. In particular, a diagnosis of melanoma in situ (melanoma which is restricted to the epidermal layer) is completely curable if appropriate surgery is soon performed.
The main risk factors for developing melanoma include:
- Sun exposure, particularly during childhood
- Fair skin that burns easily
- Blistering sunburn, especially when young
- Previous melanoma
- Previous non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell, squamous cell)
- Family history of melanoma, especially if two or more members are affected
- Large numbers of moles (more than 100 ?)
- Abnormal moles (called dysplastic nevi)
Total removal of the lesion and some border of surrounding skin is the only method used for malignant melanoma removal. When a melanoma is removed, and found to have been especially deep, there is an increased chance that it has spread to other areas of the body. In cases where deep melanomas are found, further medical treatment(s) and/or surgical procedures are recommended.
Watch for the early warning signs of melanoma by using the ABCDE criteria:
- Asymmetry (one half does not match the other half)
- Border irregularities (edges are poorly defined, ragged, scalloped, not regular)
- Color variation (different colors within the same mole)
- Diameter greater than 6 millimeters (larger than a pencil’s eraser)
- Evolving (a new mole developing or growth of an old one)