Although less common than other skin cancers, melanoma is the most serious kind of skin cancer, potentially causing death. However, almost 100% of melanomas-if found early-can be treated successfully1. In later stages, melanoma can spread to vital organs, making treatment difficult, so it is essential to have any suspicious skin moles or sores evaluated by a doctor right away.
Melanoma risk can be inherited, so if someone in your family has had melanoma, it is important to check your skin frequently.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma begins in the cells that produce pigment (melanocytes), which is why melanomas are often a multi-colored mix of tan, brown, black or blue. The pigment cells help protect the deeper layers of your skin from the sun. When UV rays from natural (sun) or artificial (tanning beds) sources damage the DNA in skin, this can affect genes that control cell division and growth. When these genes don't work properly, melanoma may form. Melanoma can form at any time without warning, so it is essential to know your ABCDE's for skin cancer and perform regular skin exams to know your moles.
Symptoms and signs of melanoma
Learn to recognize these warning signs of melanoma in addition to the ABCDE's of skin cancer:
- Spots that look like a bruise
- Sores that don't heal
- Pigment spreading into surrounding skin
- Itching, tenderness or pain
- Oozing, bleeding or nodules on the surface of a mole
- Moles that just "look different" from others
Diagnosis of melanoma involves going to your doctor for a biopsy of the affected skin. If melanoma is detected, surgery is often performed to remove the cancerous areas.
Dysplastic nevi are benign moles that resemble "normal" moles. Most nevi are stable over time, but there is a chance they can develop into melanoma. People who have 5 or more dysplastic nevi are at greater risk of developing melanoma, especially when there is a family history of melanoma2. Dysplastic nevi are usually larger than common moles (>5mm) and may have a mixture of colors, irregular borders/edges and a scaly or pebbly surface.
If you have dysplastic nevi, it is even more important to take steps to protect your skin. Avoid sun and tanning beds and check your skin regularly for changes in the dysplastic nevi. Also see your doctor, who can recommend how often you should have skin exams to monitor the dysplastic nevi.
Schedule a skin cancer screening
Worried or just curious about a mole or skin spot? Community has experts who can help. Call 800-777-7775 today to make an appointment with a Community dermatologist for a skin cancer screening. Skin cancer has a 99% cure rate if detected early - so why wait?
1: Melanoma: Tips for finding and preventing (AAD.org)
2: About dysplastic nevi (skincancer.org)