The Stitch

What you need to know about skin cancer

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a great time to learn more about melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be deadly if not detected and treated early. Melanoma is a cancer that develops in the cells that produce pigment in the skin, and it can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

A person sitting on the beach squeezing sunscreen into their hand.Melanoma is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States, with over 100,000 new cases diagnosed each year. While it is more common in older adults, it can affect people of all ages. Melanoma is also more common in people with fair skin, light-colored eyes and a history of sunburns or excessive sun exposure.

Melanoma typically appears as a new or changing mole on the skin. It can also appear as a dark spot or a patch of skin that looks different from the surrounding skin. Other signs of melanoma may include asymmetry, irregular borders, changes in color and a diameter larger than a pencil eraser.

“If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to see a dermatologist as soon as possible,” said Dr. E. Ramsay Camp, professor and chief of surgical oncology in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery’s Division of Surgical Oncology. “Early detection is key to successful treatment.”

Surgery Options and Recovery

Treatment for melanoma typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous cells. In some cases, additional treatments such as radiation therapy or immunotherapy may be recommended.

“The type of surgery you have will depend on the size and location of the melanoma,” Camp said. “In some cases, a simple excision may be all that is needed to remove the cancer. In more advanced cases, a wider excision or even a lymph node biopsy may be necessary.”

Recovery from surgery will depend on the type and extent of the procedure. In general, you can expect some pain and discomfort, as well as some scarring. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions for caring for the surgical site and monitoring for signs of infection.


Prevention is key when it comes to melanoma. The best way to prevent melanoma is to protect your skin from the sun. This includes wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with a high SPF and avoiding tanning beds.

It’s also important to perform regular self-examinations of your skin to look for any new or changing moles or spots. If you notice anything unusual, see a dermatologist right away.

Other tips for preventing melanoma include avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

“Hopefully you won’t need to come see us, but if you do, the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center offers specialized care for all stages of melanoma,” Camp said. “We have a multidisciplinary team who will develop the most effective treatment plan for each patient. Our goal is to deliver outstanding clinical care and also to perform leading edge research in cancer detection, treatment and prevention.”

– By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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