What is Lentigo Maligna Melanoma?

D. Jeffress

Lentigo maligna melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is characterized by slow-growing lesions on the face or neck. Most cases are thought to be caused by long-term ultraviolet light exposure from the sun and other workplace-related sources. Men and women over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of developing the condition. Small to medium-sized isolated lentigo maligna melanoma lesions can usually be removed surgically, which cures the condition. Some patients need additional procedures, including radiation and cryotherapy, if lesions cannot be excised.

Moles may be malignant if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, appear to spread their color into surrounding skin or change in appearance.
Moles may be malignant if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, appear to spread their color into surrounding skin or change in appearance.

Melanoma is one of the most common cancers among middle-aged and elderly people. Lentigo maligna melanoma is a relatively uncommon variety, affecting about 10 percent of all people who are diagnosed with skin cancer. Research suggests that lesions appear when light-sensitive skin cells called melanocytes become damaged over the course of several years. Abnormal melanocytes begin invading deeper layers of skin and a malignant tumor forms. Unlike some more dangerous types of melanoma, lentigo maligna tumors tend to remain isolated instead of spreading to the lymph nodes, lungs, and other parts of the body.

An individual who notices changes to a mole should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
An individual who notices changes to a mole should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.

An initial lesion can be seen well before it becomes malignant. It can take ten years or longer before lentigo maligna is a major health concern. An emerging lesion typically appears as a flat brown- or tan-colored spot with an irregular border. Over the course of several years, the lesion spreads and becomes darker. A lesion that has advanced into cancerous stages may feel soft and lumpy to the touch.

Radiation therapy is a possibility if initial treatments for lentigo maligna melanoma are not successful.
Radiation therapy is a possibility if initial treatments for lentigo maligna melanoma are not successful.

Early detection is key to treating most cancers, and lentigo maligna melanoma is no exception. An individual who notices changes to a mole or the emergence of an entirely new lesion on his or her face should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor can carefully evaluate the appearance of the lesion and ask about family history of skin cancer to make an initial diagnosis. A biopsy is usually performed to see if the lesion has malignant potential.

Wearing sunscreen can help fair-skinned people lower their chances of developing lentigo maligna melanoma.
Wearing sunscreen can help fair-skinned people lower their chances of developing lentigo maligna melanoma.

Surgical excision of lentigo maligna melanoma is the first choice of treatment in most cases. A dermatologist can carefully remove the entire tumor and treat the surgical wound as necessary. If surgery is not an option because there are multiple lesions or the patient has a dangerous underlying health condition, the doctor can consider freezing lesions with liquid nitrogen. A round of radiation therapy is another option if other treatments fail to achieve results. The majority of patients experience full recoveries following treatment, though it is possible for melanoma to reappear in another location at some point in the future.

Most cases of lentigo maligna melanoma are caused by long-term exposure to the sun.
Most cases of lentigo maligna melanoma are caused by long-term exposure to the sun.
Melanoma is one of the most common cancers among elderly people.
Melanoma is one of the most common cancers among elderly people.

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