Melanoma can be fatal if left untreated.
Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. Cancer begins when abnormal cells begin acting erratically and spreading to other parts of the body. Melanoma typically begins inside of a certain category of skin cell. Melanocytes are special types of cells that can turn into melanoma cancer. They produce melanin, a pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanin also protects your skin from some of the sun damage that would otherwise affect it.
Melanoma can form anywhere on your skin but is most often found on the legs in women and the trunk in men. Other common sites for the development of melanoma are the neck and face. If your skin is darkly pigmented, your risk of melanoma is lower; however, anyone can develop melanoma cancer on the soles of their feet, palms of their hands, and under their nails.
The Stages of Melanoma
One of the first steps in the diagnosis of melanoma is determining its type in terms of degree of severity. Melanoma develops in classifications called stages. The stages of melanoma depend on factors like depth of penetration, thickness, and the amount that the cancer has spread. Stages 0 and I are localized. Stage 0 melanoma tumors are non-invasive and are confined to the outer skin layer. Stage I melanoma tumors have reached into the epidermis skin layer but are small and unlikely to spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage II melanoma tumors are localized but larger and may possess characteristics like ulceration that can lead them to spread to lymph nodes. This category of melanoma is considered high risk. Stages III and IV are types of melanoma where the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body.
Even if you have worn sunscreen all summer, it is vital that you remain vigilant regarding your skin in other seasons as well. Periodically, you need to examine your skin to look for any suspicious moles. A warning sign would be a mole that has changed in size, shape, sensation, or color. In most cases, these are benign changes, but they could also indicate the presence of skin cancer. Other things to look for are moles or lesions that bleed, itch, or are slow to heal.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery
Mohs surgery has become the gold standard in the treatment of skin cancer, with at least a 95 percent cure rate. This precision surgery is able to stop cancer in its tracks on the cellular level.
The surgery begins with the administration of anesthesia. A small section of skin is removed and examined under a microscope to look for the presence of melanoma. One advantage to Mohs surgery is that it is able to selectively target skin cancer only, leaving healthy tissue intact. After the tumor has been completely removed, the surgeon begins the reconstruction phase. Mohs surgeons typically have additional experience in reconstruction, involving graft repair and cutaneous flap techniques. Until the skin cancer is removed, it is not possible to know the exact size and full extent of the disease.
If you have undergone Mohs micrographic surgery, you will want to keep the treatment area fairly immobile and elevated to reduce any pain or swelling. The surgery site may be tender after anesthesia wears off. You may take an over-the-counter pain reliever or a prescription in some cases. Be sure to report any pain to your doctor, since this could indicate an infection or blood clot. Your bandage should remain clean and dry and stay in place. You will be provided with detailed written instructions about wound care, which usually include instructions for site cleansing using water and soap.
You should plan to remain in town for about one week after your Mohs micrographic surgery. The reason is that there may be a complication. You should refrain from vigorous physical activity like strenuous exercise or heavy lifting. If you are a smoker, avoid smoking because it can slow the healing process. It is normal to be concerned about possible scarring, particularly in highly visible places. Scars often fade when the skin begins to heal.
After Your Mohs Surgery
Your doctor will continue to follow you closely after your treatment. Melanoma patients typically have a higher risk of developing another melanoma, so be sure to keep any follow-up appointments. Your doctor may ask you about any problems that you are having and may perform exams or lab tests.