While you should also get regular checkups with a dermatologist, melanoma detection starts at home. Especially if you’re at high risk due to age, medical history, and sun exposure, you should know what this cancer looks like and all the symptoms of melanoma. Often, a dermatologist can detect melanoma just from looking at the affected area of skin. Occasionally, an abnormal mole can masquerade as something more serious, so a biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the melanoma. Like other types of skin cancer, melanoma has five stages depending on the depth of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or more distant organs.
The entire growth is likely to be removed during a biopsy whenever it’s safe and reasonable to do so. Smaller, more rounded growths and moles can be removed through a simpler punch biopsy. Larger growths are removed through an incisional biopsy. For very large and more irregular growths, it may not be possible to completely remove the growth through a biopsy. In this case, an incisional biopsy is performed, and the most troublesome part of the growth is removed.
In addition to confirming melanoma, part of the biopsy results will also involve measuring the thickness of the growth as part of the staging the disease. Further melanoma detection and treatment is likely necessary following a positive diagnosis. Most often, a sentinel node biopsy is performed in which a dye is injected to locate the lymph nodes closest to the tumor. These lymph nodes are then tested for cancer.
By looking at all the information, your doctor will make recommendations for further treatment which may include chemotherapy, radiation, immune boosters, and targeted therapies.
Future Melanoma Detection and Screening
After effectively treating melanoma, it’s also important to get regular skin checkups to detect any recurrence of the cancer. It’s natural to be worried about recurrence and easy to think that the recurrence rate is something you can simply search for online. Very general baseline numbers do exist. The chance of recurring melanoma is 0.5% each year for the first five years after the initial melanoma has been removed and treated. However, the risk of recurrence also depends on the location, extent, and other personal risk factors. Talking with a dermatologist will help you understand your individual risk.