Superficial spreading melanoma

Superficial spreading melanoma is considered the most common type of melanoma. It is classified as in situ, which means that it occurs in the uppermost layers of skin.

What is it?

As the name suggests, superficial spreading melanoma usually appears as a thin patch that spreads outwards (known as radial growth) before it invades vertically into the dermis, the lower layer of our skin. The period between its appearance and its invasion can last for a relatively long time, ranging from months to decades.

How does superficial spreading melanoma start?

Superficial spreading melanoma occurs when melanocyte cells (the cells that produce melanin, which gives color to our skin) begin clustering together in the lowest layer of the epidermis known as the basal layer. The forming cluster is the basis of the malignant patch, which will eventually spread across the top layers of skin.

The melanoma often begins from an irregular mole, also known as a dysplastic nevus. Approximately 25% of cases arise from an existing mole, while the rest derive from a new mole.

Who gets it?

While the exact trigger of melanoma is still unknown, we know that it is a result of gene mutations. Many studies have shown that repeated sun exposure is highly linked to incidences of melanoma. Superficial spreading melanoma in particular almost always occurs in light-skinned individuals as a result of sun exposure, commonly appearing on the men’s trunks and women’s legs.

Symptoms of superficial spreading melanoma?

Superficial spreading melanoma appears typically as a mole that begins to spread beyond its borders into the surrounding tissue.

Dangerous moles can be recognized using the ABCDE self-check method. This method shows you which signs to look out for when examining suspicious moles, spots or growths on your skin.

The Melanoma Research Foundation provides a handy overview of the method you can reference when performing skin checks.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

A clinical diagnosis is needed to identify superficial spreading melanoma accurately. A doctor will often use a dermascope to diagnose melanoma. This tool will help a doctor identify distinguishing critical features of a mole or skin lesion that has evolved into superficial spreading melanoma. These features include asymmetric structures and colors, blue-grey structures, multiple colors or an atypical pigment network. Sometimes a doctor will also take a biopsy of the skin lesion to examine it more closely under a microscope.

Treatment of superficial spreading melanoma varies depending on the severity and stage. If it is diagnosed early, the chances of survival increase significantly. If cancer hasn’t progressed far and is in the early stages, the first treatment will often be an excision of the melanoma. In later stages, radiotherapy or further surgery of metastasized lymph nodes may be required.

How to prevent melanoma?

Check your skin

Performing monthly skin checks is critical to detecting melanoma early when it’s most treatable. Download SkinVision now to check suspicious moles and track changes over time.

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