Debra Irizarry, MD, FACS

Plastic Surgeon & Dermatologist located in Crestone, CO & Salida, CO

Melanoma isn’t the most common form of skin cancer, but it’s generally the deadliest: Left undetected, melanoma can spread quickly to other parts of your body, including your lymphatic system and internal organs. Fortunately, regular skin cancer screenings can help you catch melanoma early, giving you a much greater chance of treating it successfully. From her dermatology and aesthetic medicine practice in Salida and Crestone, Colorado, board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Debra Irizarry provides surgical treatment for patients with melanoma. To find out more, call or book your appointment online today.

Melanoma Q & A

What causes melanoma?

Unrepaired DNA damage resulting from exposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or a tanning bed, can trigger mutations in your skin cells that prompt them to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors known as melanoma.

While anyone can develop melanoma, certain factors can increase your risk, including:

  • Failing to protect your skin from the sun
  • Using indoor tanning beds
  • Having sun-sensitive skin or skin that burns easily
  • Living in a sunny area or closer to the equator
  • Having several blistering sunburns in your late teens
  • Having fair skin, red or blond hair, or blue or green eyes
  • Having large moles or more than 50 moles

Melanoma may appear suddenly and without warning, or it may also evolve from an existing mole. Left untreated, it can spread to your lymphatic system and even your internal organs, making it much more challenging to treat effectively.

How is melanoma diagnosed?

Melanoma diagnosis begins with a careful, thorough skin examination, typically with a device that lights and magnifies the skin for better viewing.

Dr. Irizarry looks for the ABCDEs of atypical moles, which are the most common signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole doesn’t match the other
  • Border: It has irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined borders
  • Color: A mole that has color variations, including shades of tan, brown, black, white, red, or blue
  • Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser
  • Evolution: A mole that has changed in size, color, or shape

If Dr. Irizarry finds a questionable spot, she removes some or all of it so it can be biopsied in a lab. Melanoma cannot be officially diagnosed without a biopsy.

How is melanoma treated?

The overriding goal of an effective melanoma treatment plan is to completely remove the cancer. This usually is done surgically, either through general excision or with Mohs surgery.

Excision surgery involves numbing your skin, then cutting out the melanoma and some of the surrounding skin, also known as the margin area. Excision surgery is usually an in-office procedure.

Treatment protocol for melanoma that has spread beyond the skin includes chemotherapy and radiation therapy.