Cutaneous malignant melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin. If it is treated early, the outlook is usually good. Melanocytes sometimes grow together in harmless groups or clusters, which are known as moles. Melanomas can come up in or near to a mole, but can also appear on skin that looks quite normal. They develop when the skin pigment cells become cancerous and multiply in an uncontrolled way. They can then invade the skin around them and may also spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs.
The most important preventable cause is exposure to too much sunlight or sun beds.
People who burn easily in the sun are particularly at risk. Melanoma occurs most often in fair-skinned people who tan poorly. However, not all melanomas are due to sun exposure, and some appear in areas that are normally kept covered. People with many moles or large moles, family history of melanoma, those who already had one melanoma in the past or immunosuppressed would be at higher risk of developing melanoma.
Melanomas may not cause any symptoms at all. Some melanomas start as minor changes in the size, shape or colour of an existing mole others begin as a dark area that can look like a new mole. Later on a melanoma may feel hard and lumpy, and bleed, ooze or crust up, itch or sore.
If you are at all worried about changes in a mole, or about a new mole you should asses your mole by your doctor and if there is any doubt you need to be referred to dermatologist for more detailed assessment with a dermatoscope.
If the mole needs to be examined further, this will then be removed under a local anaesthetic and sent to the laboratory to be examined. It is crucial for a melanoma to be removed as early as possible this is why a doctor should examine anyone with a suspicious mole or blemish as soon as possible.
Most skin cancers, if treated early, can be cured. That is why it is important to report any new, changing or non-healing lesions to your doctor.
ABCD's of Melanoma
A sudden or continuous change in the appearance of a mole is a sign that you should see your doctor. The ABCD rule can help you remember the symptoms of melanoma:
- A for Asymmetry
One half is different than the other half.
- B for Border Irregularity
The edges are notched, uneven, or blurred.
- C for Color
The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan and black are present.
- D for Diameter
Diameter is greater than 6 millimeters.
Other Warning Signs:
• The appearance of a new bump or nodule
• Color spreads into surrounding skin
• redness or swelling beyond the mole
• scaly appearance