Melanoma | Miami Cancer Institute | Baptist Health South Florida
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Miami Cancer Institute melanoma patient with wife on beach


If detected and treated early, skin cancer such a melanoma is highly treatable. If left untreated, however, skin cancer can invade surrounding tissue and bones or spread through the lymphatic system. 

That’s why it’s important to turn to a team of experts to understand your disease and the options available to treat it. Miami Cancer Institute’s team of pathologists, oncologists and oncology surgeons are experts in treating melanoma, at every stage.

About Melanoma

Melanoma is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in adults ages 20 to 30, and the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25 to 30.

Melanoma starts in the pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. It can develop anywhere on the skin, but in fair-skinned people it is more likely to begin on the trunk of men and lower extremities of women. In dark-skinned people, melanoma appears most often on the palms, the soles of the feet and the skin under nails.

The four clinical types of skin melanoma are: acral-lentiginous melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, nodular melanoma and superficial spreading melanoma. They fall into two basic groups:

  • In situ melanoma accounts for about 70 percent of all cases. It affects the outermost layer of the skin, called the epidermis. Patients with this type of cancer often can be treated with surgery and have an excellent prognosis.
  • Invasive melanoma spreads through the epidermis to the second layer of the skin, called the dermis. This type of cancer can spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Melanoma Risk Factors

Nearly 90 percent of melanomas are thought to be caused by exposure to UV light and sunlight. It takes only one severe sunburn, especially at a young age, to more than double your chance of developing melanoma later in life.

You can help prevent melanoma by using broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 every day, seeking shade whenever possible and wearing protective clothing.

Other risk factors include:

  • Moles and atypical moles.
  • Fair skin, hair and eyes and skin with freckling. 
  • Living in a sunny climate.
  • Personal or family history of melanoma.

Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanoma usually begins as an irregular brown, black or red spot or a mole that changes color, size or shape. It is important to perform skin self-exams to check for changes in moles or lesions using the ABCDEF guide to identify signs of disease:

  • A is for Asymmetry – One half of the mole or lesion does not match the other.
  • B is for Border – The edges are ragged, irregular or blurred.
  • C is for Color – The shades of the mole are not the same and may include brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • D is for Diameter – The width of the spot is larger than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser).
  • E is for Evolution – The mole has changed in size, shape or color.
  • F is for Feeling – The sensation around a mole or spot has changed.

Miami Cancer Institute’s team of pathologists and diagnostic radiologists are highly skilled in diagnosing melanoma. An early and precise diagnosis is the first step in developing an effective treatment plan.

To diagnose melanoma, your doctor will review your personal and family history and examine your skin to check for moles, birthmarks or other pigment areas that appear abnormal in color, size, shape and texture. If a suspicious lesion is discovered, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Biopsy
  • Lymph node biopsy
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging studies such as X-rays, ultrasound and CT, MRI and PET scans.

You will have access to innovative melanoma treatments at Miami Cancer Institute. Your comprehensive treatment plan will include advanced medical therapies combined with integrative oncology services to help reduce side effects and keep you strong in body, mind and spirit.

Surgery is the primary treatment for early-stage melanomas and may be combined with other therapies for advanced melanomas. Additional therapies include:

  • Radiation therapy, to deliver high-energy beams to damage or kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy, using drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy, using medicines to stimulate an immune system response.
  • Chemotherapy, using drugs to destroy cancer cells and control their growth.
  • Clinical trials, providing access to new approaches to treat melanoma.

Because you may be at risk of the cancer coming back in nearby skin or other parts of your body, follow-up care and support will continue following your treatment for melanoma. Be sure to follow your doctor's schedule for regular checkups.