Superficial spreading melanoma is a form of melanoma where the tumor spreads outward, close to the skin’s surface. Symptoms can include a spot with an irregular border, a dome-shaped growth, and more.

Superficial spreading melanomas tend to grow outward rather than downward into the skin. They can develop from an existing mole or arise as a new lesion.

This article will provide an overview of superficial spreading melanomas, including potential causes, risk factors, treatment options, and possible preventions.

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Superficial spreading melanoma can look like a mole or freckle spreading outward on the skin. More general melanoma symptoms can include the following:

  • developing a spot that appears different from other moles, freckles, or age spots on the skin
  • a growing spot with more than one color and a jagged border
  • a firm dome-shaped growth that may bleed
  • a patch of thick skin that looks like a scar and grows slowly
  • a band of darker skin around a toenail or fingernail
  • a dark brown or black vertical line beneath a toenail or fingernail

Learn more about the symptoms of melanoma.

The ABCDE rule can be a useful tool to check for skin cancer. It is a guide that can help identify symptoms.

The acronyms stand for the following:

  • A for asymmetry: One half of a mole or freckle looks different from the other half.
  • B for border: The edges of a mole are irregular or poorly defined.
  • C for color: The color of the mole is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black. It may also include areas of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D for diameter: The mole is larger than 6 millimeters (mm) across. However, melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E for evolving: The mole changes in shape, size, or color.

If a person has concerns about superficial spreading melanoma, it is best to contact a doctor for a diagnosis as early as possible.

Learn more about the ABCDE rule.

Although it is not clear how melanoma develops, researchers have found various factors that can increase a person’s risk.

Possible risk factors for superficial spreading melanoma include:

  • frequent exposure to the sun’s UV rays
  • skin that sunburns easily
  • having blue eyes, fair or red hair, or a pale complexion
  • a family history of superficial spreading melanoma
  • having dysplastic nevi or atypical mole syndrome, where a person has unusual-looking moles that have irregular features under a microscope

It is best for a person to contact a doctor if they have concerns about the risk factors for superficial spreading melanoma.

Learn more about the risk factors for skin cancer.

If a doctor suspects a person may have superficial spreading melanoma, they may first perform a physical exam and take a full medical history.

To confirm the diagnosis, a doctor will likely perform an excision biopsy. This involves taking a small area of surrounding skin and sending it to the laboratory.

If the doctor suspects the cancer may be spreading, they may also order blood tests or imaging tests, such as a CT scan and MRI.

Learn about biopsies.

There are several treatment options for the management of superficial spreading melanoma. These include:

A doctor can advise a person on the treatments they recommend based on the individual’s circumstances.

Learn more about skin cancer treatments.

Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. It accounts for around 70% of all melanomas.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), doctors will diagnose approximately 97,610 new melanomas in the United States in 2023.

Reducing the risk of developing superficial spreading melanoma may be possible by addressing some risk factors.

Steps a person can take to help reduce their risk include:

  • wearing clothing that covers their legs and arms when outdoors
  • wearing wide-brimmed hats to protect the head and neck area from the sun
  • using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or higher
  • avoiding using indoor tanning or sun beds
  • performing regular skin self-exams to detect signs of skin cancer early

Possible complications of superficial spreading melanoma include:

  • a secondary infection
  • scarring
  • lymphedema
  • local recurrence
  • metastases

If complications occur, a doctor can advise a person on suitable treatments.

According to a 2021 article, the 5-year relative survival rate for people with a superficial spreading melanoma diagnosis between 2004 and 2009 was 87.3%. This increased to 89.7% for people with a diagnosis between 2010 and 2015.

However, it is important to note that a person’s outlook may depend on the stage of their cancer upon diagnosis. The cancer’s stage depends on how deeply the cancer has grown into the skin and whether it has spread. A person’s general health may also affect their diagnosis.

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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Here are some frequently asked questions about superficial spreading melanoma.

How serious is superficial spreading melanoma?

Melanomas can be serious as they have the ability to spread to other body parts. However, a doctor’s ability to diagnose and treat a person with superficial spreading melanoma during its early stages can improve a person’s outlook.

What is the survival rate for superficial spreading melanoma?

The survival rate will depend on several factors, including the stage of the cancer and the overall health of the individual. The relative survival rate for people with a diagnosis between 2010 and 2015 was 89.7%.

Is superficial spreading melanoma curable?

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, superficial spreading melanoma can be highly curable if doctors diagnose it early enough. Seeking medical advice as soon as there are concerns about the condition can help improve the effectiveness of treatments.

Superficial spreading melanoma is a form of melanoma. It occurs where the tumor grows outward, closer to the skin’s surface. It is the most common form of melanoma.

Symptoms can include a growing spot, a dome-shaped growth that is firm, and changes in the color, shape, or size of a spot or mole.

A person should contact a doctor as soon as they have concerns about superficial spreading melanoma. Doctors can diagnose superficial spreading melanoma with a biopsy. They can then advise on suitable treatments, which can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and more.