There are nearly 132,000 people diagnosed with melanoma each year according to the World Health Organization. While it is the rarest form of skin cancer, it is also the most deadly. Being able to recognize melanoma signs and symptoms of before it progresses significantly increases your chances of survival.
To get acquainted with melanoma and all of its manifestations, read through our complete overview below. Make sure you are aware of the signs of melanoma so you can stay on top of signs and symptoms so you know when it’s time to see a doctor.
The fundamentals: what is melanoma and what causes it?
Melanoma is a cancer that begins in melanocyte cells found in the innermost layer of the epidermis (the top layer of our skin). It occurs when those cells behave abnormally, growing excessively and taking over surrounding tissues. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will form as a new growth.
Melanoma is considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it typically will spread to other areas of the body, including organs, if left untreated. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to the sun, like inside the mouth, under the nails or on the palms of the hands. Men are more likely to get melanomas on their back while women are more likely to develop them on their legs.
So what are some melanoma signs you should look out for?
Moles are natural, and, usually, perfectly ordinary features of our bodies. Most adults will have anywhere from 10 to 40 moles on their body by the time they reach adulthood. The key is knowing when a mole is safe and when a mole could mean skin cancer.
While melanoma can develop from a pre-existing mole, it usually will develop from a new mole or growth on the body. That’s why it’s important to conduct regular skin checks, be aware of melanoma signs and take inventory of what’s normal for your body. This way you can identify any new growths or changes should they occur.
When examining your body, pay attention to the shape and texture of the mole or spot. Melanoma will usually show up as:
· a mole with indistinct, uneven and blurry borders
· a mole that is asymmetrical and strangely shaped
· a mole with multiple colors
· a mole that is bigger than ¼ inch (about 6 mm) across
· a mole that develops a crust, scab or starts to bleed
· a mole that feels itchy or tender
· a mole that gets bigger or swells
· a mole that feels firm or raised in the center
The advanced stage signs of melanoma
While melanoma typically begins as a mole or new growth, if it has advanced to the lymph nodes, organs or other areas of the body, the symptoms can manifest in more physical ways.
Some advanced stage signs of melanoma include:
· hard or swollen lymph nodes (these are located throughout the body but large groupings are around the neck, armpits and groin regions).
· hard lumps in your skin
· shortness of breath, chest pain, noisy breathing or a cough that won’t go away
· pain in your liver (located on the right side of your stomach)
· achy bones
· a headache that won’t go away
· bowel issues and constipation
· chronic fatigue
If you notice any of the above signs, contact your doctor immediately. While they may be signs of another illness, it’s always important to get them checked out.
Other signs of melanoma
In the other instances when melanoma doesn’t develop from a mole, it may show up in places you would never think to look or in forms you would never expect. Familiarize yourself with these rarer forms of the disease so you can spot the warning signs.
Narrow dark streaks under the nails
Acral lentiginous melanoma will often form under the nails or toenails as a narrow, dark streak. It usually develops on the thumb or the big toe, but it can occur on any nail. This is more common in people with dark skin, but can occur in all skin types. It can also sometimes appear on the palms or soles of the feet as a dark spot or patch.
A dark spot on the iris or vision problems
Ocular melanoma is a very rare form of melanoma that presents itself as a dark spot on the iris, a change in the shape of the pupil, poor or blurry vision or as the appearance of flashing lights or floating specks.
Sores that won’t heal in hidden areas
Mucosal melanoma signs can appear as sores that won’t heal in your mouth or nasal passages, or in other areas of the body that produce mucous such as the vagina and anus. If you notice any signs of sores in these areas that won’t heal and cannot be explained by other causes, see your doctor and have them checked out.
In some cases, early symptoms of melanoma can also appear as:
· a slow developing plaque of skin that resembles a scar
· a new patch or spot on your skin that looks like an age spot
Check your skin for signs with the ABCDE method
So you know what to pay attention to during your skin checks, the American Academy of Dermatology created the ABCDE method. This tool highlights all of the major warning signs of melanoma. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately to get your mole or growth checked out.
A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolution
The evolution of your mole(s) is the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
Always check with your doctor
You know the drill: if you are suspicious about any spots, moles or abnormalities on your body, don’t hesitate and get them checked out by your doctor or dermatologist immediately. Because the earlier you catch melanoma, the greater your chances of survival, and a true diagnosis can only come from a medical professional.