Melanoma is the rarest and most dangerous type of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. While melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, they are rarely seen in the oral cavity. The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that oral melanomas, which include lip melanoma, are most commonly seen on the palate and gums and account for approximately 0.2 to 8 percent of all melanomas. Cases of lip melanomas are very rare, but they can have serious consequences if undiagnosed.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Lip melanomas appear as discolored areas on the lips that develop into tumors. The skin may have a purplish, brown, black or reddish color. The Oral Cancer Foundation notes that because oral melanomas develop over time and may be asymptomatic, they are often not diagnosed until the later stages of the disease.
According to a report published in BMC Research Notes, any pigmented lesions in the mouth or on the lip should be examined through biopsy. It is critical to diagnose melanomas as soon as possible to prevent the disease from progressing. Once diagnosed, your health care team will create a highly specialized treatment plan that may include surgical excision, drug therapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy.
Stages of Melanoma
The stages of melanoma reflect how far the tumor has spread and how deeply it goes into the underlying tissues. Identifying the stage of your lip melanoma helps your health care professional determine what treatments are needed.
In stages zero and one, the tumors are localized, meaning they are contained to one area. These are considered noninvasive and have a low risk of spreading, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanomas in stage zero have not gone beneath the outer layer of skin (the epidermis), and those in stage one have only gone into the next skin level (the dermis).
Melanomas in stage two are larger and have a higher risk of spreading to the lymph nodes or other areas near the tumor. In stages three and four, the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body and chances of survival may be lower.
How Does Lip Melanoma Differ From Other Lip Cancers?
Nearly one in five people develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime, including lip cancer, which appears as red, crusty patches that may bleed. This type of oral cancer can be caused by UV radiation from sun exposure and habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. It is highly preventable by using sunscreen all over the body, including the lips. It may be treated if diagnosed early through regular oral cancer checks at your dentist.
Unfortunately, there are no catch-all strategies for preventing lip melanoma. The Oral Cancer Foundation states that melanomas do not seem to be tied to risk factors like sun exposure, smoking, alcohol intake or poor oral hygiene. The best preventive routine is regular self-examination of your lips and reporting any changes to your dentist or doctor. Be sure to monitor your lip color, as well as the development of any growths or ulcers. If you notice a suspicious area, see your health care professional as soon as possible.