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Melanoma is a rapidly-growing type of epidermal cancer that affects skin cells called melanocytes. Malignant Melanoma is a dangerous and deadly cancer. The numbers of patients diagnosed with the disease are rising: diagnosed cases of melanoma have soared more than two hundred seventy percent since 1973. Those diagnosed with melanoma face a higher risk of death than other patients with skin cancer. Melanoma deaths represent more than seventy-five percent of all deaths from epidermal cancers. Light-skinned individuals are at twenty-times higher risk than African Americans of developing these cancers. It’s essential to receive regular full-body checks from an experienced board-certified dermatologist such as Dr. Kathleen J. Smith of Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta.

Melanocytes create pigmentation known as melanin in the skin. The amount of melanin is responsible for each person’s healthy skin color. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays of sunlight, melanocytes are stimulated to produce more melanin. This process prevents the individual’s skin from a sunburn. However, exposure to UV rays from natural sunlight or tanning beds or booths may damage skin cells’ DNA over time. Don’t believe tanning salons’ claims that their machines are safer than the sun. According to researchers at Harvard University, tanning machines can damage healthy skin and cause serious epidermal cancers such as melanoma.

Melanoma may also be present as a primary lesion in the patient’s eye, GI/GU tract, lymph node, or leptomeninges.


Individuals with many moles face a higher statistical probability of malignant melanoma. Most skin moles, known as common or benign moles, should be checked regularly for any changes in size, shape, or color. Some moles, referred to as dysplastic nevi, are abnormal or atypical moles. These types of moles may have several colors and prompt the experienced practitioner to suspect melanoma. The suspicious mole or spot is biopsied to evaluate the presence of melanoma.

It’s best to perform regular self-checks, too. Use a mirror to check the back, trunk, or legs. Bring any concerns or changes in skin to the doctor’s attention during the examination at Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta.

Dr. Kathleen J. Smith will take the patient’s family history as part of an office consultation. Genetic predisposition to melanoma is an important consideration. She will examine all parts of the patient’s body to identify suspicious redness, blemishes, freckles, or moles. She may discuss the presence of nevi in young patients with their parents. Congenital large nevi (greater than 5mm) have a higher malignant conversion risk. Serious sunburns in childhood also increase the patient’s risk of melanoma. She may perform imaging studies if metastatic disease concerns are present.

Some families may have a genetic predisposition or history of melanoma. Gender is also a factor: men develop melanoma more often than women. The median age for all patients is fifty-five years.


According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are four types of melanoma:

  • Superficial-Spreading melanoma is diagnosed in fifty to eighty percent of cases, and presents in mostly sun-exposed areas of the body. Lesions are predominantly about 6mm in diameter.
  • Nodular melanoma is diagnosed in twenty to thirty percent of cases. The lesions are thick in diameter and heavily pigmented.
  • Acral lentiginus melanoma is diagnosed in approximately five percent of cases. This extremely deadly variety of the disease may present on foot soles, palms, or subungual (fingernail or toenail) areas. The lesions may be very painful.
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma is infrequently diagnosed in mostly older patients. This is the slowest-growing form of melanoma and, as a result, the least likely to spread. Lesions appear on sun-exposed skin.


Any suspicious abnormal or atypical moles or lesions should be biopsied. This is necessary for confirmation of diagnosis prior to treatment. Surgical excision is the proper treatment for melanoma lesions. Most are performed on an outpatient basis. Immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatments may be recommended to the patient. Regular follow-ups with Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta evaluate the patient’s recovery. Most patients have regular follow-ups at three-month, six-month, or as needed after surgery.


Early identification and treatment of malignant melanoma offer the best prognosis. Don’t despair, and don’t delay! Patients in North Decatur, GA, Decatur, GA, Belvedere Park, Druid Hills, GA, North Druid Hills, GA, Gresham Park, GA, Tucker, GA, Chamblee, GA, Redan, GA, East Point, GA, Sandy Springs, GA, North Atlanta, Decatur, and Greater Atlanta should call Dr. Kathleen J. Smith for an appointment at 678-904-4932.

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