Melanoma is a form of skin cancer more common in Australia than anywhere else in the world. Melanoma develops in cells called melanocytes and usually occurs in the skin. In rare cases, melanoma develops within the nose, throat, or eyes. Early detection is key to successful treatment.
While a combination of factors can lead to developing melanoma, it is understood that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the leading cause. People with a fair skin complexion (therefore less pigmentation in their skin) have less protection from UV radiation. Further risk factors are a history of sunburn, living at higher elevations and closer to the equator, a weakened immune system, a family history of melanoma or having many unusual moles.
The first signs of melanoma are an abnormal mole or pigmented lesion on the skin. Key features include asymmetry, meaning one half looks different to the other half, irregular borders (uneven or jagged edges), and colour variation, such as brown, blacks, blues, reds and even whites. Most melanomas are usually larger than six millimetres when they are first detected. Melanomas typically change over time.
Sometimes, melanomas may be itchy, bleeding or become ulcerated. Some melanomas are hidden under the nails, in the urinary, genital, or digestive tract, mouth or eyes.
If you are concerned about a skin lesion or have a history of skin cancers, see your GP or other skin specialist regularly. Your doctor will either excise (cut out) the melanoma or take a small sample (biopsy) if the suspected melanoma is large or in a difficult location. For further management, you may be referred to a surgeon. If you are referred to Dr Moar for further management, he will start by taking a history and performing a physical examination and then discuss recommended tests and treatment with you. These might include a wide local excision and sentinel lymph node biopsy if the primary melanoma meets certain criteria.