Understanding Skin Melanoma

According to the Melanoma Institute Australia, 30 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma every day and more than 1,200 will die from the disease each year.

In Australia, 1 in 14 men and 1 in 24 women will be diagnosed with melanoma sometime in their life, and it kills more young Australians (20-39 year olds) than any other single cancer

It is a cancer that we all need to be aware of especially since it is the easiest cancer to treat when caught early. A skin check is essential for early detection and should be part of everybody’s annual health care checks.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes) which produce melanin to help protect the skin from UV radiation. When melanocyte cells cluster in the skin during childhood or adolescence, they form a mole. If that mole begins to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, it can become a melanoma.

Image sourced from The Skin and Cancer Foundation.


Are you at risk?

The risk of melanoma is highest for those people who have:

– Fair skin, freckles, red hair, light coloured eyes and a tendency to burn rather than tan
– A family history of melanoma
– An increased number of unusual moles
– Depressed immune system
– Previous melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers

However, the majority of melanomas are caused by UV (sun) exposure. In terms of prevention, it is important to avoid over-exposure to the sun and sunburn. Read our sun safety tips HERE.

How is it diagnosed?

After patients notice a change to an existing mole or the development of a new mole, the initial diagnosis is often in a doctor’s office. Your doctor will complete a physical examination to check all parts of your skin, most likely using a magnifying instrument called a dermoscope.

If your doctors recommends an excision biopsy, it is a quick and simple procedure which can be administered by your GP or a dermatologist. After having been given local anaesthetic, a scalpel will be used to remove the mole and surrounding tissue. Pathology will then examine the sample.

Early Detection – ABCDE

Consider the below when checking your own skin:

A: Asymmetry – Melanoma lesions are typically irregular in shape
B: Border – Melanoma lesions often have uneven borders
C: Colour – Melanoma lesions often contain multiple colours (brown, black, pink, red or purple)
D: Diameter – Melanomas are often more than 6mm in diameter
E: Evolving – Melanomas often grow in shape or change in height

Stages of melanoma

Stage 0
Definition: Melanoma is confined to the cells in the top layer of skin (epidermis).
Treatment: Surgical removal.

Stage I
Definition: 2mm without ulceration, metastases or lymph node involvement; up to 1mm with ulceration, without metastases or lymph node involvement.
Treatment: Surgical removal. Removal of nearby lymph nodes may also be considered if the melanoma is between 1-4mm thick and/or shows signs of rapid growth.

Stage II
Definition: Thickness and ulceration. No lymph node involvement or spread to organs.
Treatment: Surgical removal and removal of nearby lymph nodes is also a treatment option to prevent spread. Drug treatment or radiation may also be required to lower the risk of the cancer returning.

Stage III
Definition: Any thickness and lymph nodes involved.
Treatment: Surgical removal of the lymph nodes. Drug treatment and radiation may also be considered.

Stage IV
Definition: Any thickness and has spread to distant lymph nodes and organs, e.g. lungs, liver, brain or bone.
Treatment: Systematic drug therapies including immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Surgery and radiation may also be used to relieve symptoms.

Learn more about treatment options HERE.

Here is a useful diagram for self-examination and early detection:



If you have any concerns about your skin, don’t wait as early detection is essential! Call our clinic on 02-9252 2225 to book in to see a GP or book online now and have a skin check today.

Skin & Cancer Foundation, https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2149/learn-about-melanoma.
Melanoma Institute Australia, https://www.melanoma.org.au/
The Melanoma Institute aims to find ways to prevent, treat and promote awareness of the most deadly cancer.
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