There are three major skin cancer types. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Of these three, malignant melanoma is considered the most serious form of skin cancer. This is because there is a higher likelihood of metastasis or spreading of disease throughout the body. In general, early stage melanomas such as stage 1 have good outcomes. Later stages, such as stage 4 are more likely to have metastasis.
There are four major types of malignant melanoma including superficial spreading, nodular melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, and acral (hands, feet, ears, nose) melanoma.
The most common of the four types of malignant melanoma is superficial spreading. Upwards of 70 percent of all melanomas fall into this category and that tends to be a good thing. The majority of superficial spreading melanomas are exactly that; superficial. This tends to mean the skin cancer is thinner or the tumor thickness is less than 1 mm. Tumor thickness is extremely important when diagnosed with melanoma as the thicker the tumor the harder it is to cure and the higher chances of metastasis. With superficial spreading melanoma the majority of cases are curable.
Next up is nodular melanoma and this is the second most common type of melanoma after superficial spreading. Compared to superficial spreading melanoma this type of tumor tends to be thicker. Most nodular melanoma are twice the depth of superficial spreading melanomas, 2 mm. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the skin is not very thick. So, 2 mm is actually quite deep.
Lentigo maligna melanoma we tend to see in older patients in areas on skin that has had long term sun exposure. This means areas like the face and chest. These tend to be slow growing tumors that may develop over the course of years when compared to other melanomas that may seem to appear out of nowhere.
Lastly, acral melanoma, those that tend to appear on the peripheral areas of our body is the least common. As compared to fair skinned individuals, this type tends to affect those with darker complexions. These are typically found on the hands and feet or even in the nailbeds.
Cumulative sun exposure from the beach, boat, tanning beds, etc. is the most obvious risk factor for developing a melanoma. However, there are numerous other factors that may contribute to the development of this deadly skin cancer. Fair skin, light eyes, having numerous dark moles on your body, family history of melanoma, and even being immunosuppressed by certain medications or disease processes. Keep in mind that although existing moles can transform into melanoma the vast majority of melanomas are new spots. So always be on the lookout for the “ugly duckling”, which is the new mole that does not look like any other mole on your body!