What Is Melanoma
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer most commonly caused by damage to the DNA in a certain type of skin cells called melanocytes, often due to exposure to ultraviolet light. This damage can cause skin cells to form cancerous tumors, but if caught early it is almost always curable. However, if left untreated, melanoma can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body — such as the brain, bones, liver, and lungs.
When melanoma cannot be fully removed by surgery (stage III unresectable), or has metastasized (stage IV), it is known as advanced melanoma and is the most serious form of skin cancer. While overall metastatic melanoma survival rates have more than tripled since the 1970s, it is still one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers.
Advanced Melanoma (Unresectable or Metastatic) Facts and Figures
Stages of Melanoma
Melanoma, like many cancers, is characterized into 4 main cancer stages based on the thickness of the cancerous tumor and how far it has spread. Doctors can determine the stage of melanoma by performing physical exams, including biopsies, as well as imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans. The 4 main stages of melanoma are:
Despite these staging definitions, not all advanced melanoma (unresectable or metastatic) is the same. Patients may have different genetic changes present in their tumor, also called mutations, making their disease uniquely personal.