Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in damaged melanocytes which are located in the basal layer of the epidermis/top layer of the skin (basal cell carcinomas also originate in the basal layer). It is marked by cancerous growths often resembling moles. Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer; however, it is the most dangerous.
Melanoma is caused by intense UV exposure. This exposure, which can be brief or prolonged, causes skin cell damage that results in the formation of tumors. UVA and UVB exposure can come from the sun’s rays or tanning beds. Melanomas can also be caused by genetic mutations that can run in families.
Signs: What to look for
In order to spot melanoma it is important to pay particular attention to any mole that is different from the others, especially if you notice that it has evolved in color, height, size, or shape over time. Moles that bleed, ooze, itch, or are painful or tender should also be addressed. While many tend to be black or brown, melanomas have the potential to range in color from skin-toned, to purple, blue, or even white.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has established a helpful set of guidelines, the ‘ABCDEs of Melanoma’, in order to detect harmful moles before they pose a serious health risk. These guidelines include:
- Asymmetry – mole is not symmetrical
- Border – mole’s borders are uneven
- Color – mole appears to be various colors as opposed to one shade of black or brown
- Diameter – mole’s diameter is larger than a pencil’s eraser (although some may be smaller earlier on)
- Evolving – the appearance of the mole changes over time
Many factors can contribute to an individual’s level of susceptibility to developing melanoma. These factors include:
- Increased sun exposure
- Having a large quantity of moles on skin
- Having fairer skin, hair, and eyes
After a visit with one of our board certified dermatologists, they may determine that the mole needs to be evaluated further. In this case, the mole will be separated from the skin in order to be examined under a microscope. This examination will be able to establish whether the mole is malignant or benign.
When spotted and addressed early, melanoma is, more often than not, curable. However, once the cancer has advanced and spread, it becomes increasingly difficult to treat.
At any stage, treatment for Melanoma may include:
- Radiation therapy
Working to prevent melanoma (and other forms of skin cancer) begins with incorporating a sun-protection element into your skin routine. While many believe that taking precautions in regards to sun exposure is only necessary in the summer, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using SPF 15 + throughout the year. At White Rock Dermatology, we recommend wearing at least SPF 30 broad spectrum sunscreen reapplied every two hours while outdoors and/or protective clothing. It is also strongly advised to perform a thorough self-examination at least once a month, making note of any changes on the surface of the skin. If you do find any changes that are in any way a concern, it is important to make an appointment with one of our dermatologists as soon as possible.