Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, we’re devoting each of our blogs this month to educating our readers about one of the most deadly cancers: melanoma. This first blog will answer the question, what is melanoma.
Of all types of cancers, skin cancer is the most common. And of the different types of skin cancers, melanoma is the most serious. In 2017 alone, over 160,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma.
Although melanoma has an excellent recovery rate if caught early, once it has spread to other organs of the body, it is more difficult to treat – and can be deadly. That’s why regular skin checks and prompt follow-up with a dermatologist are so essential.
But what, exactly, is melanoma?
Contrary to popular belief, melanoma isn’t just a skin cancer. It can develop anywhere on the body – eyes, scalp, nails, beet, mouth, etc.
Melanoma begins in the melanocytes – the cells that produce the pigment, or melanin, which colors your skin, hair, and eyes. Melanocytes also form moles, where melanoma often develops. Having moles can be a risk factor for melanoma, but it’s important to remember that most moles do not become melanoma.
Categories of Melanoma
Most people think melanoma is one kind of cancer, but in reality, there are three categories of melanoma:
- Cutaneous Melanoma is melanoma of the skin. Since most pigment cells are found in the skin, cutaneous melanoma is the most common type of melanoma.
- Mucosal Melanoma can occur in any mucous membrane of the body, including the nasal passages, the throat, the vagina, the anus, or in the mouth
- Ocular Melanoma, also known as uveal melanoma or choroidal melanoma, is a rare form of melanoma that occurs in the eye.
The ABCDs of Melanoma
Moles, brown spots, and growths on the skin are usually harmless — but not always. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your skin very well and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body.
Dermatologists consider moles that first appear in adulthood to be suspicious and urge people to have them checked out right away. You may think it isn’t a big deal and you could be right. However, we always encourage people to be proactive rather than reactive.
It is also helpful to keep the ABCD rule in mind when deciding if you should be seen for a suspicious mole. That means you should consider the following:
- Asymmetry: A normal mole has symmetrical sides. The two sides of a potentially cancerous mole do not match one another.
- Border: Look at the edges of your mole. If they are blurry, ragged, or otherwise irregular, please schedule an appointment in our medical dermatology department.
- Change: A mole that changes over time in any way – whether that’s size, color, or shape – is also suspicious and should be checked out immediately.
- Color: Another “C” is Your mole should be one consistent color. If you have basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma type of skin cancer, it may appear brown or black with shades of blue, red, white, or pink mixed into it.
- Dark: A dark mole (brown or black) or a lighter mole that darkens is also one possible sign that the mole is becoming cancerous and could be a melanoma.
- Diameter: Another important “D” is The typical mole is one-quarter of an inch in diameter or less, although some forms of melanoma skin cancer can be smaller.
Next week, we’ll discuss what causes melanoma and some of the measures you can take to prevent it.
In the meantime, if you have a suspicious mole that you would like to have checked out, click here to schedule an appointment.
Dermatology Associates offers a full spectrum of leading edge medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology services from offices in Savannah and Vidalia.