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Clinical Specialties - Cancer


San MDTMelanoma is a cancer that forms in melanocytes, the skin cells that produce a brown pigment known as melanin. These are the cells that darken when exposed to the sun, a protective response to shield the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. But, unlike other forms of skin cancer, melanoma may develop in parts Melanoma, Sarcoma, Surgical Oncology MDTof the body not normally exposed to sunlight, such as the groin or bottoms of the feet. It may also form in the eye.

The skin cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about melanoma, its side effects and your treatment options.

About melanoma

Melanoma starts in the body’s pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes. The skin and the eyes are the two most commonly affected areas. It is thought that melanomas form as a result of damage to the genetic material in melanocytes, caused by ultraviolet (UV) light both from the sun and indoor tanning beds.

It’s also possible for melanoma to develop in parts of your body not exposed to sunlight, such as the membranes lining your eyes, sinuses, anus, or vagina, though this is relatively rare. Contrary to common belief any person, regardless of their skin colour, race, ethnicity, gender, or age, can develop melanoma. 

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, which along with New Zealand has the world's highest incidence rate for melanoma. Melanoma is more commonly diagnosed in men than women. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men compared to 1 in 22 for women.

In 2014, 13,134 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Australia, accounting for nearly one in ten cancer diagnoses.

What are the symptoms of melanoma?

In many cases, there may be no obvious symptoms of melanoma and often the first sign is a change in an existing mole or the appearance of a new spot. These changes can include:

  • Colour – a mole may change in colour or have different colour shades or become blotchy
  • Size – a mole may appear to get bigger
  • Shape – a mole may have in irregular border or may increase in height
  • Elevation – the mole may develop a raised area
  • Itching or bleeding

Other symptoms include dark areas under nails or on membranes lining the mouth, vagina or anus.

New moles and spots will appear and change during childhood, adolescence and during pregnancy and this is considered normal. However, adults who develop new spots or moles should have them examined by their doctor to rule out the possibility of melanoma.

How is melanoma diagnosed?

If you are concerned about the look or changes in appearance of a spot or mole, contact your doctor to have it examined.  Your doctor may examine you and use a dermascope (magnifying instrument). The ABCDE method is used to help identify symptoms and make a diagnosis.

  • A - Asymmetry, irregular
  • B - Border, uneven
  • C - Colour
  • D - Diameter (usually over 6mm),
  • E - Evolving (changing and growing).

If the doctor suspects melanoma, a biopsy may be carried out. This may be done by your GP or you may be referred to another specialist.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of skin and soft tissue experts will use these test results to determine the stage or extent of the cancer which will largely influence the recommended treatment approach.

What are my treatment options for melanoma?

There are many treatment options available depending on the stage of melanoma. The most common treatment for localised (early stage) melanoma is surgery, and in the majority of cases, this is the only treatment required.

More advanced cases of melanoma where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body may require treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted molecular therapy.

Your doctor will recommend the best treatment option based on how far the melanoma has progressed together with other factors such as your age and general health.

Resources and useful melanoma links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services