You might hear your doctor or nurse say that you have “Stage 1” melanoma. This will mean that you have been diagnosed quite early, hence the number 1 being referred to.
Your melanoma is likely to be quite thin, less than 1mm thickness but might have broken the surface of the skin (you might hear “ulcerated” being used). At this point, there will be no spread elsewhere in the body and it is unlikely that the melanoma has grown deep enough into the skin to spread elsewhere. The risk of spread is if it becomes thicker and your doctor may advise you on the thickness of the tumour and the likelihood or risk of it coming back.
Early stage melanoma is usually diagnosed by the removal of an unusual or abnormal mole and a small section of skin in the same area. The tissue will be referred to the laboratory to test for melanoma. If melanoma is confirmed you will require another operation and you will hear the term wide local excision used (WLE). During this procedure, you may have a test called sentinel lymph node biopsy during which the surgeon will carry out tests on the lymph nodes. Your surgeon will discuss this with you. If your doctor is happy that enough tissue from the surrounding area has been removed, this should be all the treatment and surgery that you will require.
If you are told you are stage 1B, this may mean that the melanoma is thin, but that the skin over it is broken: or it is between 1 and 2mm and is not broken. There will be no sign that there is any spread elsewhere in the body.
Following the surgery, if you are advised that you have an early melanoma that was in the top layer of skin (you might hear “in situ” used – which means it is in one place) you will be given further appointments to be followed up in clinic and advised to keep a close eye on your skin in the future.
You should be given information about what to keep a look out for: changes in moles, dark spots around the area, feel for enlarged glands close to where the original melanoma was discovered. If you notice any changes at all, you must contact your medical team immediately.
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