The Benefits of Early Detection of Melanoma
Your skin is the largest and most exposed organ in your body. It’s not surprising then that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the United States than all other cancers combined . Therefore, it’s important to monitor your skin for cancer, especially melanoma. While melanoma is rare—accounting for only 1% of skin cancers—it causes a large proportion of the deaths from skin cancer.
Why is melanoma so deadly? Because it can easily spread. Melanoma experts stage (figure out the extent of) melanoma based on where it is, how much it has spread, and other features (such as whether the original melanoma on the skin is broken, which is called ulceration):
- Stage 0 (in situ): Melanoma that is confined to just the upper layer of the skin (the epidermis)
- Stage I: Melanoma (up to 2 mm in depth) that spreads into the lower layer of the skin, the dermis. This includes melanoma that is more than 1 mm and up to 2 mm in depth that is not ulcerated
- Stage II: Thicker melanoma (more than 2 mm in depth) that extends deeper into the dermis or melanoma more than 1 mm and up to 2 mm in depth that is ulcerated
- Stage III: Melanoma that spreads to the region around the original tumor (such as the lymph nodes)
- Stage IV: Melanoma that spreads beyond the regional lymph nodes to distant sites (eg, to the lungs, brain, etc.)
When melanoma spreads, it is harder to treat and can be deadly. For instance, when melanoma is localized (Stage 0, I, or II), the 5-year survival rate is 99.5%, meaning more than 99 out of 100 people will be alive 5 years after diagnosis. This 5-year survival rate drops to 71% for people with Stage III melanoma (regional disease), and 32% for people with Stage IV melanoma (distant disease).
The good news is that the earlier melanoma is found, the better the chance of achieving good outcomes. Many thin melanomas can be cut out and effectively cured by surgery. That’s why it is critical to find melanoma at its earliest stages—when it is most curable. You need a plan to evaluate your skin.