Malignant melanoma is a potentially serious type of skin cancer due to uncontrolled growth of pigment cells, called melanocytes. It has a tendency to spread quickly to other parts of the body (metastasize). Most melanomas appear as dark growths similar to moles, however some may be pink, red or skin color. Melanomas can be very treatable when detected early, but can be fatal if allowed to spread throughout the body. The goal is to detect melanoma early when it is still on the surface of the skin.
The most common early signs of melanoma are a growing mole on the skin, unusual mole on the skin, non-uniform mole with an odd shape or different colors, or any mole that itches, bleeds or feels painful. Some people have a higher risk of developing melanoma, including those with fair skin and light colored eyes, sun sensitive skin, and people with 50-plus moles. Excessive sun exposure, especially severe blistering sunburns during childhood or use of tanning beds can cause melanoma. Heredity also plays a role, as research shows that if a close blood relative (parent, child, or sibling) had melanoma, a person has a much greater risk of developing melanoma. Early detection and treatment are critical to a successful recovery.
We recommend protecting your skin from the sun and annual full body skin exams with your dermatologist. When checking your own skin, you should look for the ABCDE’s of melanoma (Asymmetry, irregular Borders, varied Colors, large Diameter, and any lesion that is Evolving). If you notice anything new or changing, you should see your dermatologist immediately. If you are diagnosed with a melanoma, treatment depends on the size, how deeply it has grown into the skin, location of your cancer, and whether the melanoma has spread to other parts of your body.