The most dangerous form of skin cancer, these cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation or tanning beds)triggers genetic mutations that lead the skin cells to multiply fast and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment producing cells called melanocytes in the basal layer of epidermis. Melanomas look like moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin colored, pink, red, purple blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense sun exposure, frequent sunburns, especially in those who are genetically predisposed. Melanoma kills 10,130 people in US per year.
Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at higher risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles.
- A: if you draw a line through the mole the two halves will not match, means it might be a warning sign for melanoma.
- B: the borders of the melanoma tend to be uneven the edges may look scalloped.
- C: having a variety of colors in one mole is a warning sign, or moles with unusual color compared to other moles on the body.
- D: usually larger than a pencil eraser.
- E: be on alert when a mole start to change. Any change in size, color shape, size or any new symptom such as bleeding or crusting could be a danger sign.
Types of melanoma
There are four basic types.
- Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type. It is seen most often seen in young people. It grows along the top layer of the skin but eventually can penetrate more deeply. The first sign is the appearance of a flat discolored asymmetrical patch. The color may vary. This type can grow from previously benign mole. Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body but commonly appears on the trunk in men, the legs in women and upper back in both.
- Lentigo maligna is similar to the first type as it also remains close to skin surface for a long time, and usually appears as flat mottled tan or brown, or dark brown. This type is most often found in elderly arising on sun damaged skin on the face, ears, arms and upper back.
- Acral lentigonous melanoma also spreads superficially before penetrating deeper. Usually it appears as black or brown discoloration under the nails or on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. This type of melanoma is more common in dark skinned individuals and Asians and detected in more advanced stages.
- Nodular melanoma is usually invasive looks like a bump. The most frequent location are trunk, legs, and arms as well as scalp in men. This is the most aggressive type of melanoma.
What are the risk factors?
Increased risk come with sun exposure, lots of moles on the skin, and genetics.
How to prevent melanoma?
Use broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Seek shade. Do not burn, avoid tanning beds, cover up. Reapply sunscreen after swimming.
See a dermatologist as soon as you suspect something or for a yearly skin check up.