The American Joint Committee on Cancer has developed a system for classifying cancers according to the extent of the cancer. Complete excision of the melanoma is followed by assessment of lymph nodes and other parts of the body to determine whether the cancer has spread. The staging system looks at other factors that have been found to affect survival, such as tumor thickness (Breslow level), depth of invasion (Clark level), and ulceration.1
Two systems are used for staging melanoma.
The clinical staging system uses the letter T to describe primary tumors, the letter N to describe lymph node involvement, and the letter M for metastases (spread). Numbers after each of these letters show the seriousness of the disease.
The pathologic staging system uses all the above information and adds the pathologic evaluation of the lymph nodes and the examination of any evidence of melanoma spread.
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