Melanoma and how to prepare for skin cancer surgery
At Orchard Park Dermatology, we focus heavily on the prevention of skin cancer. Still, even despite our best efforts, skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and one that we see regularly. The good news is that when caught early, most skin cancers can be treated successfully through surgery. In the following article, we’ll look at one of the more dangerous types of skin cancer: melanoma. Find out what melanoma is, how it’s diagnosed, and what you can do to successfully prepare for skin cancer surgery.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma develops in the melanocytes. These skin cells are located in the upper layer of the skin and are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanoma occurs when the skin becomes damaged by harmful UV light, triggering a mutation in the melanocytes that causes rapid, uncontrolled growth. While it’s not as common as basal and squamous cell carcinomas, it can be far more serious because it has the potential to spread to other organs in the body quickly when it’s left untreated.
Melanoma is typically characterized by irregularly shaped spots on the skin. These typically stand out from freckles or other skin spots due to their size. Melanomas can range in color from brown or black to red, gray or even blue and for some, the spots may itch, bleed or ooze.
Early detection is vital in the successful treatment of melanoma. The 5-year survival for a melanoma that is caught early and has not spread is 98%, however, once cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the area or to further areas like the lungs, the survival rate drops dramatically to 63 percent and 16 percent respectively.
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If you notice any areas of concern, it’s important to schedule a visit as soon as possible. These areas will be biopsied and if cancer is present, treatment will be determined based on the type and stage of the cancer. There are several different treatments for skin cancer depending on the type. Surgical excision is the most common and precise type of treatment for melanoma that is contained to the upper layer of the epidermis, known as melanoma in situ.
Surgery for melanoma involves removing the cancerous tissue as well as an area of surrounding tissue known as a margin. This procedure is typically done in-office under local anesthesia. The excision area can then be closed with sutures.
How to prepare for your skin cancer surgery
Prior to skin cancer surgery, you will need to advise your doctor of any medications that you are currently taking as well as any medical devices that you may have (stent, pacemaker, etc.)
If you smoke, you will need to stop smoking at least two weeks before the surgery because smoking will obstruct the healing process. You should also avoid certain medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or drugs that contain aspirin as they can cause excessive bleeding. You will also need to tell your doctor if you are taking any blood-thinning medications.
One of the best things you can do before surgery is to get a good night’s sleep the night before so that you are well-rested. Do not consume alcohol 24 hours before your surgery.
On the day of surgery, avoid putting makeup on if your surgery is anywhere on the face. You can take a shower and then put on loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. It can sometimes be cold in the doctor’s office so you may want to put on a light sweater or sweatshirt.
After the surgery, a bandage will be placed over the excision site and should be kept dry and clean. You will be provided with instructions for applying any healing ointments or changing the bandages. Pain can usually be treated with over the counter pain medications. You will return in a few weeks for a follow-up appointment to remove the stitches and check the healing of the site.
While hearing the word cancer can be hard for anyone, there are many ways to fight skin cancer, including starting with effective prevention. Make sure to reduce your risk by using proper skin protection and minimizing sun exposure. For more information, please call Orchard Park Dermatology at (716) 675-7000.
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