Learn more about how Dr. Tjoa can help you navigate treatment for melanoma.
More common in men when it affects the head and neck region, melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer with a five-year survival rate of 17 percent post diagnosis. Often affecting the face and other areas typically exposed to the sun, melanoma develops in cells called melanocytes that give skin its coloration.
- While having fair skin or a compromised immune system and exposure to UV light are common risk factors associated with type of cancer, it has also been known to develop with no clear reason.
- Instances of melanoma have been steadily increasing worldwide, including in the United States.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs of melanoma are an existing mole with an unusual appearance or a new and unusual growth. Additional signs associated with this type of cancer may include new or persistent sores or growths, pigmentation going beyond a mole’s border, and swelling, redness, or tenderness. Melanomas aren’t always in obvious locations. Some appear inside of the eye (ocular melanoma), and others may develop in the mouth (mucosal melanoma). In some instances, affected moles may bleed, ooze, or become painful. The American Cancer Society recommends paying attention to the following “ABCDEs” to spot moles or growths that should be evaluated:
- Asymmetry: Part of the growth is different from the other half.
- Borders: Edges are irregularly shaped.
- Color: Coloration is uneven or unusual.
- Diameter: Moles are larger than 6 millimeters.
- Evolving: Growths that change over time.
The size, color, and texture of the suspicious mole or growth is visually inspected. Diagnosis of melanoma also considers a patient’s medical history and lifestyle factors such as exposure to UV light from sun or tanning beds. Testing usually involves taking a tissue sample and determining whether or not the cancer has spread with CT and PET scans and a blood test. A biopsy will also identify the stage of cancer, which will help with treatment efforts.
Treatment with Surgery
Surgical removal of the abnormal growth is the primary treatment for this type of cancer, especially when it’s detected in early stages. If the melanoma is thin and limited to a single area, it may be removed entirely when a biopsy is done. If the cancer has spread, lymph nodes are sometimes removed as well. A skin graft is sometimes necessary to replace removed patches of skin.
Other Treatment Options
Delivered orally or intravenously, chemotherapy drugs are used to stop cancerous cells from dividing. Involving the use of a special machine, external radiation therapy targets affected cells and tissues. Radiation may also be administered internally with an injection. The purpose of biological therapy is to improve immune system functioning so the body can fight cancer more effectively.
Age is often a risk factor with skin-related cancers like this. However, there have been increased instances of melanoma in patients under 40, particularly women. This is just one example of how this is a type of cancer that doesn’t always fit into specific patterns. Therefore, any unusually appearing moles or other irregular skin blemishes or growths should be reason enough to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor specializing in head and neck cancer.