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What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the pigment-producing cells that determine the color of your hair, skin, and eyes. When these cells, known as melanocytes, multiply and invade other areas of the skin and soft tissue, melanoma develops. Melanoma has a higher mortality rate than all other forms of skin cancer combined, so it is vital that you learn the signs and symptoms and have any changes in your skin examined by a dermatologist.
Melanoma is caused by DNA damage from excessive sun exposure. UV light from the sun’s rays damages the skin cells, which can cause them to grow uncontrollably.
Melanoma can spread to other areas of the body and invade organ symptoms. Melanoma is especially dangerous because of its ability to spread rapidly if not treated during the early stages
There are four types of melanoma, and each type varies in how the tumor initially presents itself, how rapidly it grows, how it looks, and where on the body it can be found.
- Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common form of melanoma and can be found anywhere on the body. This type of melanoma will present as a new lesion on the skin or arise in an existing mole. Superficial melanoma appears as a flat, asymmetrical patch of discolored skin. This patch may be smooth or slightly raised, and it will have uneven borders.
- Nodular Melanoma is the most aggressive form of melanoma and accounts for 10-15% of all melanoma cases. This type of melanoma is typically found on the arms, legs, and torso. Unlike other types of melanoma, nodular melanoma will most often present as a new growth. Additionally, it grows deeper and more rapidly than the other types of melanoma.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma is the slowest growing type of melanoma and most often develops in patients over 40 years old. This type will present as a dark brown, tan, or black colored blotchy patch with uneven borders. Lentigo maligna melanoma is most often found on the face, ears, and upper torso.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common form of melanoma affecting African Americans. It is often hard to spot as it appears in places such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, and under the nails. This type of melanoma appears as a dark brown to black patch with uneven pigment.
If found early enough, the initial surgery will cure most people diagnosed with melanoma. Generally, melanoma has a 5-year survival rate of 92%.
For detecting early signs of melanoma, follow the ABCDEs of skin cancer when you are examining your skin. If you notice any of the following, you should have your skin checked out by a dermatologist:
- Asymmetry: If you draw a line through the middle of the mole or dark spot on your skin, you do not have matching halves.
- Border: A mole with an irregular, scalloped, or faded border.
- Color: The color of the mole is inconsistent, with shades of tan, brown, red, black, dark brown, or blue.
- Diameter: Melanomas are typically larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser).
- Evolving: A mole or skin growth that looks different from other moles on your body or changes in appearance.
Itchy moles can be a sign of melanoma. Also, skin lesions caused by melanoma may itch, ooze, or bleed.