That spot on your skin… Is it normal/benign, or is it a sign that you have a skin cancer called melanoma?
Melanoma is one of the types of skin cancer, but it is the most aggressive. If it is left unaddressed, it can spread throughout the body. The good news, though, is that if you detect melanoma early, it can be successfully treated. So it is important to understand how to spot melanoma symptoms as soon as possible—and bring them to attention to your doctor.
Here is a closer look at what melanoma is, how to recognize it, and what to do if you suspect you have it.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that produce skin pigmentation become cancerous and begin growing out of control.
Around 200,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and it affects both men and women of every skin color.
Most skin cancers are one of two types—squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas—which are less likely to spread.
But melanoma is different—it is highly aggressive and can spread quickly if not detected and treated early. Malignant melanoma can be deadly, which is why early detection is so essential.
Melanoma can occur anywhere you have skin, on any part of your body. It is most likely to show up in areas of the body that get more sun exposure, such as the face, arms, legs, ears, neck, shoulders, and back. Less frequently, melanoma can also develop in other areas, including the bottoms of the feet, the palms of the hands, fingernail beds, mouth, eyes, and anus.
Melanoma most often appears as a dark mark/mole on your skin that looks odd, is new, or has recently changed. However, it does not always appear as a dark spot, it can be light in color or even pink in color. It usually looks different than a benign mole, and there are ways to recognize the difference between a normal skin mark and a cancerous growth.
Most people have at least some moles—skin marks—on their bodies. Normal moles are an even shade of brown, tan or black. They may be flat or raised, round or oval. They look symmetrical and are smaller than the size of a pencil eraser (about ¼ inch or less). They often appear during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.
Most importantly, they typically stay the same over the years. It is not normal for a mole to change its shape, color or size. If you have a mole that suddenly appears later in life, or a mole that suddenly begins to change, that’s the time to see your doctor.
The most common signs that you may have a melanoma are:
You can use the ABCDE rule to help you recognize melanoma symptoms. Look for and let your doctor know if you notice any of these warning signs:
In addition to the most common signs listed above, there are other symptoms that can signal you may have melanoma, such as:
Melanoma may show only some of these warning signs, so if you notice even one of these symptoms, have your doctor perform an examination of your skin as soon as possible.
You are more likely to get melanoma if you have:
Melanoma is most likely to be effectively treated and cured when it is detected early. So, take the following steps to improve your likelihood of catching melanoma early.
The better you know your own skin, the easier it is to notice when a mole or skin mark is new or has changed. So, get to know your skin with monthly self-checks. Look at yourself head-to-toe in a full-length mirror, in a well-lit room. Use a hand-held mirror to examine parts of your body that are hard to see. Have a family member help you examine your scalp and back.
People with numerous moles and freckles, outdoor jobs, or other risk factors should schedule annual skin check-ups. Some people may require more frequent check-ups. Your doctor will be able to examine areas of your skin that are difficult for you to see, as well as make notes of anything unusual and observe it or test it as needed.
In addition, see a doctor anytime you notice any of the warning signs, especially if a mole has changed or a new skin mark has suddenly appeared.
Do not let the risk of melanoma go unchecked. At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, we provide caring, individualized diagnosis and treatment plans to help you address any concerns you have about your skin, so you can get back to health.
Contact us to set up an appointment.