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Melanoma Glossary of Terms

Basal Cell Carcinoma - the most common type of skin cancer. It grows slowly and rarely spreads, but can damage nearby tissue. It usually appears on the areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun.

Breslow Depth (also known as Breslow thickness) - A measurement in millimeters of the depth of tumor invasion. Breslow depth is considered the single most important prognostic factor for primary melanomas.

Chemotherapy - the use of chemical agents or anti-cancer drugs in order to treat or control a disease.

Biochemotherapy - this is a powerful combination of chemotherapy drugs used with biologic agents such as Interferon and Interleukin. This type of therapy is reserved for stage IV or advanced stage melanoma.

Clark Level - a staging system that measures the depth of invasion of a primary melanoma lesion, ranging, from Level I (limited to the epidermis) to Level IV (invading the subcutaneous fat).

Immunotherapy - also known as biological therapy is designed to help the immune system fight off the cancer cells. Interferon and Interleukin are common forms of immunotherapy for melanoma. Vaccine therapy is also considered another form of immunotherapy though still considered experimental at this time.

Lymph nodes - small bean-shaped structures that act as filters, collecting bacteria or cancer cells.

Lymphoscintigraphy - this procedure is used to identify the nodal basin(s) at risk for the spread of melanoma cancer. This is not an indication that the cancer is present in these areas, but used to locate the node(s) that needs to be removed and biopsied.

Melanoma - a cancer that begins in the cells that produce skin coloring. These cells grow abnormally and will spread if not detected at an early stage. It can occur anywhere on the body and may begin in an existing mole or develop as a new growth on the skin.

Metastasis - the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

Radiation Therapy - a powerful tool that kills melanoma cells externally (external beam radiotherapy) or by placing radioactive materials into the tumor itself (brachytherapy).

Sentinel lymph node - this is the first lymph node that a cancer cell is likely to spread to from the primary tumor.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma - this skin cancer is less common than the basal cell, but can be more dangerous because it grows more quickly and may spread. It usually appears on the areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun.

Staging - this refers to the degree to which the melanoma has spread in the body. Stages I and II are early melanoma while stages III and IV are more advanced melanoma.

Ulceration - the surface layer of the melanoma is cracked and open on microscopic examination.