In situ melanoma
I have had an in situ melanoma removed. My doctor says I don’t need to see him again. Is this right? Does it mean it wasn’t a cancer?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in cells called melanocytes. In situ melanoma is the very earliest stage of melanoma. There are cancer cells in the top layer of skin (the epidermis) but they are all contained in the area in which they started to develop. So they have not started to spread or grow into deeper layers of the skin. In other words, it has not become invasive. Doctors also call it stage 0 melanoma.
Some doctors call in situ cancers pre cancer. In a way, they are. Although the cells are cancerous, they cannot spread to other parts of the body, so in situ cancers are not a cancer in the true sense. But if they are not treated, in situ cancers can develop into invasive cancer.
Doctors treat in situ melanomas by removing them with surgery. They also take a border of healthy tissue from around the melanoma to make sure they remove all the cancerous cells.
The British Association of Dermatologists, The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) say that people who have had an in situ melanoma don’t need any follow up visits with their specialist. This is because in situ melanoma cells are very unlikely to come back once the area has been removed. But if you have a lot of moles, or have a family history of melanoma, you may have more regular check ups with your doctor.
Your specialist doctor or nurse should show you how to examine your skin so that you can recognise possible melanomas. And they should give you information about who to contact if you are worried. You may find our pages about melanoma symptoms and referral to a melanoma specialist helpful.
Being told you’ve had any type or stage of cancer is worrying and upsetting. But the outlook for in situ melanomas is very good. It is extremely rare for them to come back and because they were in situ they will not have spread elsewhere in the body.
A diagnosis of melanoma at any stage means your risk of getting another one is higher than average. So it is very important that you take extra care in the sun. Stay in the shade in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its strongest. When you are in the sun, cover up with a hat, clothing and sunglasses and use a factor 30 sun cream.
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