Melanoma is the rarest yet deadliest form of skin cancer, accounting for a large majority of skin cancer deaths. If caught early, melanoma is usually easy to treat with a minor surgery. The key is knowing the warning signs and where to look before it spreads.
Origins of melanoma
Melanoma begins in melanocytes cells (the cells that create pigment) in the deepest layer of skin, also known as the hypodermis or subcutaneous tissue. When these cells become damaged, mutations can occur and the mutated cells can reproduce themselves rapidly, eventually forming a tumor and taking over surrounding tissues.
Where melanoma occurs
Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to the sun, such as inside the mouth or the palms of the hands; however, areas regularly exposed to the sun, like the back, legs, arms and face, are at greater risk for developing melanoma. Men are more likely to develop melanomas on their back, trunk or head and neck while women are more likely to develop them on their arms and legs.
A study in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology found that melanomas in blacks, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians most often occur on non-exposed skin with less pigment, with up to 60-75 percent of tumors arising on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions.
> Learn more about these rarer symptoms of melanoma.
How melanoma first appears
Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths or start as a new growth. That’s why it’s important to regularly check your whole body for new moles and growths or changes in existing moles. There are several tell-tale symptoms that indicate if a mole or growth may be cancerous. These are summarized in the ABCDE method of detection.
Check your moles or spots with the ABCDE method:
|· A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or asymmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
|· B – Border
Non-cancerous moles usually have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions will often have fuzzy, irregular borders.
|· 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 mm in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser) while normal moles will usually be 6 mm or smaller.
|· E – Evolution
The evolution of a mole or growth is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to diagnosing melanoma. That’s why it’s essential for individuals to take note of what is normal for their body. Melanoma lesions will often have gone through recent changes in color and/or size while non-cancerous moles will usually stay the same over time.
If you notice one or more of these melanoma symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist right away to get the mole or mark checked out.
Other warning signs of melanoma include if a mole or growth:
· develops a crust or a scab
· sometimes bleeds or oozes
· is itchy
· feels tender
· gets bigger or swells
· has a changing surface texture, such as becoming scaly or developing a lump
Learn more about how melanoma spreads.