Melanoma originates in pigment producing cells of the epidermis called melanocytes. The pigment is called melanin and is responsible for our hair, skin, and eye color. In the US, over 90,000 new cases of invasive melanoma are diagnosed each year, accounting for less than 5% of all skin cancers. However, it causes most of the deaths from skin cancer.
Melanoma may be flat or raised with irregular borders. They may have one color or several colors including tan, brown, black, pink/red, blue, or white. They may be brand new lesions or arise from an existing mole that has changed in size, color, or shape. Melanomas may occur anywhere but are more common on the torso in men and on legs in women. In darker skin types, melanoma can also be found on hands and feet and even under nails.
In addition to the skin, melanomas can also occur in the uvea of the eye and mucosa that lines organs and body cavities. See related eye cancers for more information.
Melanoma is curable when detected and treated early. However, once it spreads deeper into the skin or to other parts of the body, treatment becomes more difficult and may be deadly. Sentinel lymph node biopsy may be necessary to determine if melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes. Limb perfusion may be an option if melanoma has spread in the arm or leg. Radiation may be required after surgery to decrease risk of melanoma coming back. There are many new treatments for advanced melanomas including targeted therapies, immunotherapy, vaccines, cytokine therapies, and chemotherapy.
The team of experts that treat melanoma may include:
- A dermatologist for a skin exam and biopsy to diagnose condition. If caught early, melanomas can be treated with surgery alone. Regular follow-up skin exams are necessary due to higher risk of developing another melanoma at a different site on the body and to monitor for recurrence.
- Head and neck surgeon or surgical oncologist to assess lymph nodes and wider resection if more advanced melanoma.
- A radiation oncologist for possible radiation therapy for aggressive cancers.
- Oncologist if disease is extensive or has metastasized (spread elsewhere in body).
Merkel cell carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine tumor of the skin that originates from the Merkel cell that is involved with touch sensation. In the US, about 3,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. They usually arise in patients who are older or have a weakened immune system.
MCC tumors usually develop on sun exposed areas like face, head, or neck. They are flesh-colored, pink, or bluish-red bumps that tend to grow fast. Unfortunately, they commonly spread to other areas of the body and often comes back after treatment. Treatment requires a multidisciplinary team to remove the MCC, assess lymph nodes, and possible radiation or systemic therapy.
The team of experts that treat merkel cell carcinoma may include:
- A dermatologist for a skin exam and biopsy to diagnose condition.
- Head and neck surgeon or surgical oncologist to assess lymph nodes and resection.
- Radiation oncologist for possible radiation therapy for aggressive cancers.
- Oncologist if the disease is extensive or has metastasized (spread elsewhere in body).
Our team at Sylvester is involved in clinical trials when conventional or typical therapies are not effective.
Why Choose Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center?
Sylvester is an NCI-designated cancer center. The National Cancer Institute has recognized Sylvester for its outstanding work conducting research in its laboratories, treating patients in its clinics and hospitals, and reaching out to medically underserved communities with innovative prevention strategies.
World-class melanoma surveillance and detection clinic. Earlier detection options and more accurate diagnoses helps us identify melanoma when it is most treatable.
Immunotherapy clinical trials. You’ll have access to the most advanced treatment options in South Florida.
One of the few institutions to offer reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM). RCM is able to differentiate between melanoma and other less serious or benign skin lesions to provide an accurate diagnosis. It gives high magnification images of the skin, enabling more accurate diagnosis of lesions that are not entirely defined on clinical examination and dermoscopy.
Advanced expertise in immunohistochemistry and tumor markers. Our expert pathologists make more accurate diagnoses. When pathologists can make the call on the aggressiveness of the tumor, treatment can be more appropriately recommended.