Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBChB (UCT).
Fellow of South African College of Surgeons
Diploma in Obstetrics & Gynaecology
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. Melanoma occurs when melanocytes divide and change. Melanoma commonly occurs on a man’s back or chest or a woman’s legs. Melanomas also target the face but rarely affect the eyes and intestine.
Four types of melanoma exist that include:
- Superficial melanoma: This is a widespread type of melanoma that forms on the limbs and slowly spreads to other areas of the skin.
- Nodular melanoma: Nodular melanomas are either red or blue-black. These melanomas form on the neck or head and spread at a faster rate than any other type of melanoma.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma: This form of melanoma is not as common as the rest and usually occurs in older people. These melanomas target specific areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun. It starts as a stain and spreads to other areas of the skin.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma: This melanoma is a rare skin cancer that develops on the hands, beneath the nail bed and soles of the feet.
What causes melanoma?
DNA damage, genetics, sunburn and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light are factors that contribute to the development of melanoma. Other factors that increase your risk of melanoma include:
- Weak immune system: If you have a compromised immune system, you are more likely to develop skin cancer or melanoma.
- Malignant moles: The presence of over fifty moles increases your risk of melanoma. It's also vital that you consult with the doctor should you notice any change in the appearance of the mole. A change in appearance could range from variations in colour to the size and border of the mole.
What are the signs of melanoma?
You must notify Dr Mitchell if you notice changes on your skin. These changes include colour and texture variations or traces of irregular moles.
Other signs of melanoma include:
- The emergence of moles or spots
- Itchy or painful spot on the skin
- New pale or smooth lumps
- Red scaly spots
Dr Mitchell examines the skin to check for signs of melanoma. Once she completes the exam, she asks about your medical history, previous surgeries and family history of melanoma.
If there’s the presence of a mole, she performs an ABCDE exam to assess its condition. An ABCDE exam includes an assessment of the mole’s symmetry, border, colour, size and change. The doctor diagnoses melanoma if the mole is asymmetrical, irregular or large.
Other diagnostic tests include:
- Skin biopsy: Dr Mitchell extracts tissue and sends the sample to the laboratory for further tests.
- Excisional biopsy: With the use of a scalpel, the doctor cuts the mole and nearby tissue. She sends the sample to the laboratory for analysis.
- Lymph node biopsy: The doctor performs a lymph node biopsy to determine if cancer advances to the lymph nodes.
Dr Mitchell performs skin cancer surgery to remove the melanoma. If the melanoma is shallow, it can be completely removed through a biopsy. If not, the skin cancer surgeon performs a wide local excision to treat early-stage melanoma. She cuts out the rim of the tissue that surrounds the lesion. The amount of margin depends on how thick the melanoma is. Once the skin cancer surgeon removes the margin, she sends it to the laboratory for further tests.
Generally, you can return home after skin cancer surgery. Dr Mitchell will provide post-operative care instructions. You will most likely experience pain near the surgical region. The doctor will prescribe medication to relieve the pain. You must notify Dr Mitchell should you notice signs of infection or experience excessive bleeding.
Please note: The information provided above and on this website is for education and interest purposes only. It is not intended to replace a personal one-on-one consultation, nor is it meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnose or treat any condition. A consultation with a specialist and qualified health care provider such as Dr Mitchell is essential for correct diagnosis and management, as well as to answer any queries that you may have. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice due to something you have read on this website. Dr Mitchell takes no responsibility for any errors or omissions present on this website and is not liable for any consequences that may occur from misinterpretation of the information on this website. In the event of uncertainty or an emergency, please visit your nearest casualty.