Incidence of malignant melanoma, a neoplasm that arises from melanocytes, has increased by 50% in the past 20 years. In particular, an increase in incidence of melanoma in situ suggests earlier detection. The disorder varies in different populations but is about 10 times more common in white than in nonwhite populations. The four types of melanomas are superficial spreading melanoma, nodular malignant melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, and acral-lentiginous melanoma.
Melanoma spreads through the lymphatic and vascular systems and metastasizes to the regional lymph nodes, skin, liver, lungs, and central nervous system (CNS). Its course is unpredictable, however, and recurrence and metastasis may occur more than 5 years after resection of the primary lesion. If it spreads to regional lymph nodes, the patient has a 50% chance of survival.
The prognosis varies with tumor thickness. Generally, superficial lesions are curable, whereas deeper lesions tend to metastasize. The Breslow Level Method measures tumor depth from the granular level of the epidermis to the deepest melanoma cell. Melanoma lesions less than 0.76 mm deep have an excellent prognosis, whereas deeper lesions (more than 0.76 mm deep) are at risk for metastasis. The prognosis is better for a tumor on an extremity (which is drained by one lymphatic network) than for one on the head, neck, or trunk (which is drained by several networks).
Several factors may influence the development of melanoma:
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light. Melanoma is most common in sunny, warm areas and commonly develops on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun. A person who has a blistering sunburn before age 20 has twice the risk of developing melanoma.
Skin type. Most persons who develop melanoma have blond or red hair, fair skin, and blue eyes; are prone to sunburn; and are of Celtic or Scandinavian descent. Melanoma is rare among blacks; when it does develop, it usually arises in lightly pigmented areas (the palms, plantar surface of the feet, or mucous membranes).
Autoimmune factors. Genetic and autoimmune effects may be causes.
Hormonal factors. Pregnancy may increase risk and exacerbate growth.
Family history. A person with a family history of melanoma has eight times the risk of