Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that causes new or unusual changes to marks on the skin. Potential melanoma symptoms include marks that change in size, shape, or color.

A woman checks for melanoma symptoms which can include changes in size, shape, color, and borderShare on Pinterest
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This article will discuss what melanoma is, its signs and symptoms, and how to treat it.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. Of all cancers, skin cancer is the most common form, but melanoma is one of the rarer types. It is also one of the more serious types of skin cancer, as it can spread rapidly to other bodily tissues.

Melanoma occurs when melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, mutate and become cancerous. Melanin is the substance that gives skin and hair their color. Melanoma can start in skin cells or on mucous membranes, such as the lips.

More common forms of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers affect different skin cell types and are less likely to spread than melanoma.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be around 106,110 new cases of melanoma in the United States in 2021. They suspect that more of these will occur in males than in females. Also, they predict that around 7,180 people will die from melanoma in 2021.

Melanoma can cause unusual moles or marks on the skin. However, not all moles and markings are cause for concern.

Normal, noncancerous moles are usually round or oval marks that are smaller than 6 millimeters (mm) across. They usually stay the same size for years.

Melanoma causes new moles and spots that change in size, shape, or color. The ABCDE rules can provide a rough guide for determining whether or not a mole could be cancerous:

  • A for asymmetry: Melanoma causes marks that are asymmetrical.
  • B for border: The borders of these marks tend to be irregular or ragged.
  • C for color: The color or shade may differ around the mark.
  • D for diameter: Cancerous marks on the skin will typically be larger than 6 mm, though not always.
  • E for evolving: The mark will likely change in shape, size, or color.

These rules are helpful for identifying possible symptoms of melanoma. However, melanoma can also cause marks that do not match these descriptions. Some other symptoms to look out for include:

  • a sore that does not go away
  • swelling around the mark
  • color changes spreading from the mark to the surrounding skin
  • itching, tenderness, or pain on the skin
  • changes to the mark’s surface, such as oozing or bleeding

It is important to contact a doctor about any new or unusual marks on the skin. Early detection is critical in receiving an early diagnosis and successful treatment.

There are four main types of melanoma. These are as follows:

  1. Superficial spreading melanoma: This causes flat or slightly raised marks on the skin. They are usually asymmetrical with ragged borders, with colors of brown, red, blue, or white. It can affect new or existing skin marks.
  2. Lentigo maligna: This type causes flat or slightly raised patches with uneven borders. They are usually blue-black, but they can also be brown. They typically occur on sun-damaged areas of skin on the face, arms, or torso.
  3. Acral lentiginous melanoma: This type will appear as black or brown patches. These patches usually develop in difficult-to-see areas of the skin, such as under the nails or on the soles of the feet.
  4. Nodular melanoma: With this type of melanoma, the tumor grows deeper in the skin, causing blue-black bumps.

At first, melanoma can cause few symptoms. Some people may have melanoma without any pain or discomfort. In these cases, the only symptoms may be a new or unusual mole or mark.

Sometimes, however, marks or patches on the skin become tender, itchy, or painful. There may also be inflammation surrounding them.

People undergoing treatment for melanoma may experience additional symptoms. For example, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause fatigue and nausea.

The first step in diagnosing melanoma is often identifying a new or unusual mark on the skin. People can do this themselves through self-examination.

If someone is concerned about a mark, a doctor will check their skin for any symptoms of melanoma. They will look at the shape, size, and color of marks.

Doctors will usually perform additional tests to confirm a diagnosis of melanoma. This will usually include taking a biopsy, which involves removing a tissue sample from the mark.

Depending on the severity and potential spread of the melanoma, doctors will determine the best treatment plan. Some common treatment options include:

  • surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding cells
  • immunotherapy, which supports the body’s immune response to fight the cancer
  • targeted therapy, which involves medications that target specific parts of melanoma cells
  • chemotherapy, which attacks the cancerous cells directly
  • radiation therapy, wherein high energy rays can kill cancerous cells

Early detection of melanoma increases the number of treatment options available and the likelihood of recovery. If a person notices any new or unusual marks on their skin, it is important for them to contact a doctor.

Performing regular self-checks and knowing which symptoms to look out for can help them detect skin cancer early.

Use the ABCDE rules as a guide, but remember that some marks may not match these descriptions.

Melanoma is the result of damaged DNA causing skin cells to mutate uncontrollably. The cause of this damage is not always clear, and so it is not always preventable.

However, sustaining damage from sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. People can take steps to reduce their exposure to UV light, and their risk of skin cancer, by:

  • avoiding excess sun exposure, particularly during the hottest times of the day
  • wearing clothing that protects the skin from sun damage
  • wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or above, on exposed skin when outdoors
  • reapplying sunscreen after getting wet
  • avoiding tanning beds, which greatly increase the risk of melanoma

It is important to ensure that children are adequately protected from the sun, as their skin is particularly vulnerable to damage from UV light.

Melanoma is an uncommon but serious form of skin cancer. It affects melanocytes in the skin, but it can rapidly spread to other bodily tissues.

The symptoms of melanoma include new or unusual marks on the skin, which may or may not itch, hurt, or change in color and size.

Early detection of melanoma is crucial for successful treatment. Performing regular self-checks can increase the chance of catching melanoma early.