Melanoma staging is determined during or after diagnosis in order to better understand the extent of the cancer and assist the oncology team as they develop an individualized treatment plan. The stage of a patient’s melanoma is based on several factors, such as the size and thickness of the tumor or skin growth, as well as whether or not the cancer cells have metastasized, or spread, to other areas of the body.
A variety of tests may be necessary to accurately stage a case of melanoma. For example, imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI may be used to determine if the cancer has metastasized. Or, a physician may perform a fine needle aspiration biopsy of lymph nodes near the melanoma to retrieve a sample of cells for closer examination.
The staging of melanoma is usually identified numerically, from Stage 0 to Stage 4 as follows:
- Stage 0 – This stage is often referred to as melanoma in situ. The abnormal cells are precancerous and are only affecting the epidermis (top layer of skin).
- Stage 1 – The melanoma has grown deeper than in Stage 0, but is still small. The stage is broken down into two subgroups of IA and IB, which is determined by the exact depth of the melanoma, whether it appears ulcerated (the skin appears broken or disintegrated) and how quickly the cells are growing.
- Stage 2 – The cancer still has not spread, but has extended through the epidermis into the dermis (inner layer of skin). This stage is divided into three subgroups, IIA, IIB and IIC, depending on the melanoma’s thickness and whether there is ulceration present.
- Stage 3 – At this stage, the melanoma has spread to lymph nodes nearby. The stage is divided into Stage IIIA, B or C, depending on the size and depth of the tumor, whether it appears ulcerated and how many lymph nodes are affected.
- Stage 4 – The cancer cells have metastasized to more distant areas of the body, such as the liver, lungs, brain or distant lymph nodes or skin tissue.
The Cutaneous Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center is home to a multispecialty team of skin cancer experts. These professionals are highly experienced in the diagnosis and staging of melanoma, and take a comprehensive approach to individualized treatment and care. Members of Moffitt’s skin cancer team (including surgical oncologists, dermatologists, pathologists, radiologists, plastic surgeons, medical oncologists, dermatopathologists and all other specialists) meet weekly in a tumor board to review complicated cases, which ensures that every patient receives the best possible treatment.
If you have questions about melanoma staging or want to make an appointment, call 1-888-MOFFITT, or complete our new patient registration form online. No referral is necessary to meet with our oncologists specializing in melanoma.