The human impact of Melanoma has been enormous. We are in the midst of an epidemic of huge proportions. 25 years ago, the melanoma rate was 1 in 150 people, now it is 1 in 30 people getting melanoma.
Malignant Melanoma Screening
Malignant melanoma is a serious skin cancer that arises in moles or in the tanning cells of the skin. In its early stages, when it can be easily treated, the disease is not life-threatening. But in later stages, malignant melanoma spreads or “metastasizes” to other parts of the body. At this point, treatment is not always successful. People at high risk of developing the disease are those who have:
- a family history of melanoma, or who have had a melanoma in the past.
- unusual moles on the skin, or changing moles.
- fair skin, light hair and eye color, and who sunburn easily or tan with difficulty.
- a record of painful or blistering sunburns as children or teenagers.
- indoor occupations and outdoor recreational habits.
The ABCD’s of Melanoma
Regular self-examination is the best way to become familiar with the many moles and spots on the skin. With the help of a family member or friend, you should examine your skin, including hard-to-see areas (mouth, back, scalp, buttocks, etc.). Common moles and malignant melanomas do not look alike. You should inspect your moles and pay special attention to their sizes, shapes, edges and color. A handy way to remember these features is to think of A-B-C and D-for Asymmetry, Border, Color and Diameter:
The pictures below illustrate the earliest warning signs of malignant melanoma. Any one of them or other changes in the skin-itchiness, tenderness, redness, swelling, softening or hardening-should prompt a visit to your physician.
Remember the ABCD’s of self-examination. With malignant melanoma, early detection and treatment make the difference.
A – Asymmetry
Some forms of early malignant melanoma are asymmetrical, meaning, a line drawn through the middle will not create matching halves. Common moles are round and symmetrical.
B – Border
The borders of early melanomas are frequently uneven, often containing scalloped or notched edges. Common moles have smooth, even borders.
C – Color
Different shades of brown or black are often the first sign of a malignant melanoma. Common moles usually have a single shade of brown. “Black (or dark) and smooth, we must remove”, states Dr. Roper. “Especially when the lesion is new. In the beginning, melanoma may look like an ordinary freckle or age spot. THAT is when you most want to remove them, since they are usually curable in this stage”, explains Dr. Roper
D – Diameter
Common moles are usually less than 6 mm. in diameter (¼”), the size of a pencil eraser. Early melanomas tend to be larger than 6 mm.
Precancers are conditions that are likely to give rise to malignant skin tumors.
Solar or actinic keratoses occur as dry, rough, pink to tan scaly patches on sun-exposed, especially “weather-beaten” skin.
Leukoplakia is a smooth, opaque white patch which affects the mucous membranes, primarily the lips and inside the mouth.
Radiodermatitis often presents itself as mottled increase and decrease of skin pigment. The area is usually hairless and the blood vessels over the thin surface of the patch may be dilated.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.
Basal cell carcinomas are raised, translucent, pearly nodules which may crust, ulcerate, and sometimes bleed. They occur most often on the face and other exposed areas of the body, but can appear on other areas.
Squamous cell carcinomas usually are raised, pink, opaque nodules or patches which frequently ulcerate in the center. They most often appear on exposed areas of the body, but also may appear elsewhere.
Malignant melanomas are usually small brown-black or larger multicolored patches, plaques or nodules with irregular outline. They may crust on the surface or bleed. Many of them may arise in pre-existing moles.