What are the 4 Subtypes of Melanoma to be Concerned About?

We’ve all heard that the incidence of select cancers is on the rise, especially skin cancer. It is unfortunate and scary that we are now at a point where one in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

Of the two categories of skin cancer, non-melanoma (including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) and melanoma, the latter is definitely more aggressive. If left untreated, melanoma can spread and have a serious effect on one’s health.

But even within melanoma skin cancer, there are different clinical manifestations and different presentations of melanoma on the skin. In fact, dermatologists and physicians often talk about four subtypes of melanoma.

The four most common subtypes of melanoma are acral lentiginous, superficial spreading, nodular and lentigo maligna. “Of those four, superficial spreading tends to be seen the most often,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, dermatologist and skin surgeon at Sanova Dermatology.

The superficial subtype can occur at any age. “However, we often see it more when meeting with young patients.” It is characterized by a discolored, asymmetrical patch of surface layer skin. The patch may or may not be raised. It is also typically located on the legs, trunk or upper back. “I suspect lifestyle and tanning in particular, have a lot to do with it,” explains Dr. Mamelak. Dr. Mamelak is a member of the Disease Site Group for Melanoma in Ontario, Canada, and has helped campaign for legislation to limit tanning in minors.

The second subtype, lentigo maligna, generally shows up in senior citizens with a history of frequent sun exposure. “In most instances, it appears as brown, flat or raised spot on the ears, arms and face – really the chronically sun exposed areas.”

The third subtype of melanoma that you should keep an eye out for is nodular. Unlike the other subtypes that we mentioned previously, it appears as a discolored bump. The bump is usually a noticeable color. However, it can remain the same color as the person’s surrounding skin. Thus, it may be hard for the untrained eye to recognize. The list of areas where it tends to turn up includes, but is not limited to, the upper and lower extremities.

“Although it’s not as common as some of the others, it tends to be the most aggressive,” says Dr. Mamelak. Most melanomas will grow horizontally, along the skin for a period of time before invading into the deeper layers. Nodular melanoma tends to go deep very quickly. The depth to which a melanoma invades is one of the key features related to prognosis after these skin cancers develop.

The fourth melanoma subtype is known as acral lentiginous. It differs from the other subtypes in regards to where it appears on the body. Parts of the body normally impacted by this melanoma subtype include the palms of the hands, nail beds and the soles of the feet. Those areas tend to develop patches of dark black or brown coloring. This melanoma subtype is often see in individuals with darker complexions, such as African Americans.

Contact Us

To learn more about the four subtypes of melanoma, please contact us. At Sanova Dermatology, our well respected, educated physicians have years of experience dealing with melanoma and other skin issues. To speak with them and set up an appointment, please call (512) 837-3376.

About the Author:

5x7_final MERIDIA MEDICAL 2011 118Dr. Adam Mamelak is a board-certified dermatologist with specialized training in cutaneous oncology and skin surgery.


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