What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of aggressive skin cancer that originates from the melanocytes (pigment producing cells in the skin).
What does melanoma look like?
Most often, melanoma appears as an asymmetrically colored, dark lesion on the skin with an irregular border. Sometimes, a melanoma can occur at a site of a mole that may have been present for many years. If you have family history of melanoma, have many moles on your skin, and have a tendency to sun burn, than it is important that you see a dermatologist regularly for a thorough skin exam.
What are the treatment options for melanoma?
This depends on the stage of your tumor. Unlike most cancers, the stage of melanoma is dependent on the thickness of the tumor. For very thin tumors (<.8mm), a wide excision of the lesion is usually sufficient. However, for tumors greater than .8 mm thick, sometimes a wide excision and a sentinel lymph node biopsy is recommended. If there are lymph nodes that are involved in the neck, then you may need wide excision of the tumor in addition to a therapeutic lymph node dissection. Also, depending on the stage of the tumor, you may also be referred to a medical oncologist for possible chemotherapy or a radiation oncologist for possible radiation therapy.
What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy? What is a lymph node dissection?
A sentinel lymph node biopsy uses a tracer injected around the tumor a few hours before surgery to locate the first few lymph nodes that tumor may have spread to. These lymph nodes are then removed and sent to the pathologist. The sentinel lymph node biopsy can provide information to help guide treatment.
A lymph node dissection (in the neck) is indicated when there are obvious lymph nodes that are involved with tumor. This procedure removes a portion of the lymph nodes in the neck while sparing the other vital structures.
Can my dermatologist just treat my melanoma?
Usually if a sentinel lymph node biopsy or a lymph node dissection is not indicated than your dermatologist may elect to treat the melanoma. However, if a sentinel lymph node biopsy or lymph node dissection is indicated, then it can be hard to complete without the aid of general anesthesia in which case a surgeon is needed. A lymph node dissection should only be performed by a trained professional as there are many structures in the neck that could be damaged if one is not aware.