Published 6 months ago, by Roeland Pater

Melanoma begins in melanocyte cells found in the innermost layer of the epidermis. It occurs when those cells behave abnormally, clustering together, growing excessively and taking over surrounding tissues. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will start as a new growth.

Melanoma in situ

Early forms of melanoma are classified as in situ, which means “in place” in Latin. This simply means that the cancer cells haven’t yet spread beyond the epidermis. When melanoma spreads deeper into the skin, into the lymph nodes or organs, it is considered metastasized.

There are four stages of skin cancer which increase in severity, with in situ being the first stage. In situ melanoma is the easiest type to treat. Typically, the cancerous area and a border around the area is simply cut out by a doctor and monitored for recurrence. Treatments for metastasized melanoma, on the other hand, can include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Based on the type and stage of the cancer, treatment options vary widely and should be discussed thoroughly with a doctor.

Preventing melanoma

The best way to prevent in situ melanoma is to limit your sun exposure and apply sunscreen frequently. Those with fair skin are more at risk for developing melanoma as they have lower amounts of protective melanin (pigment) in their skin. Those with a family history of melanoma are also more at risk. It’s important to check your body from head-to-toe frequently to detect any dangerous changes in moles or spots early. Self-diagnoses are never 100% accurate, so if you have any concerns about a spot or growth, get in touch with a doctor or dermatologist immediately to have it checked out. While the vast majority of moles and blemishes are not cancerous, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

> Learn more about the early warning signs of melanoma.