Melanoma Symptoms. Melanoma, also known as malignant melanoma, is a type of cancer that develops from the pigment-containing cells known as melanocytes. Melanomas typically occur in the skin, but may rarely occur in the mouth, intestines, or eye. In women, they most commonly occur on the legs, while in men they are most common on the back. Sometimes they develop from a mole with changes such as an increase in size, irregular edges, change in color, itchiness, or skin breakdown.
Often caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5 percent of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths. As with many forms of cancer, melanoma is often misunderstood, and myths persist.
Facts About Melanoma
- Melanoma is a skin cancer that can spread earlier and more quickly than other skin cancers.
- 1 in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime. It is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. and worldwide.
- Melanoma is the second most common of all cancers in men and women ages 15-29.
- It is projected that nearly 80,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2013. That means one person every 8 minutes.
- The average age for melanoma diagnosis is 50, compared to other cancers, which is closer to 65-70 years old.
- If caught in the earliest stages, melanoma is entirely treatable, but because it spreads quickly, early detection and immediate treatment is critical.
- Risk factors for melanoma include fair complexion, family history, severe sunburns as a child, and using a tanning bed ten times a year or more before age 30.
- Tanning beds are no healthier than sitting in the sun. Actually, the UVA radiation used in tanning beds is three times the amount of harmful radiation emitted by the sun, therefore more dangerous.
- UVA rays from tanning beds penetrate deep into the skin; they destroy skin fibers and damage elasticity, causing premature aging, wrinkles, and leathery skin.
- The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers are to avoid intense sunlight for long periods of time and to practice sun safety (i.e.: look for sunscreen that provides both UVA and UVB protection).
A mole that you have should normally be symmetrical and round. If you draw a line through the middle of your mole, you should be able to get two halves that are symmetrical. If the two halves do not match, it means that the mole is asymmetrical which is an early warning sign of melanoma.
In melanoma, the borders of the lesion are usually ragged, notched, or irregular compared to non-malignant tumors that generally have a smooth and regular border.
A normal mole usually has one color that is typically a single shade of brown. A mole that has a variety of colors is often a warning sign of melanoma. An affected mole often has several different shades of tan, black, or brown or even appear to look red, white, pink, or blue. Individuals at risk of melanoma should keep a look out for moles that have a change in color.
Normal and healthy moles are usually flat, small, symmetrical, round, and only have one shade of brown, black or tan color in appearance. One of the factors that might signify that the mole is affected is the diameter of the lesion.
If a mole starts to evolve or change in any way, it may be a sign of melanoma. This includes any change in the shape, size, elevation, color, or any other trait. Evolvement of the mole can also include new symptoms such as crusting over the top, itching, bleeding, or oozing from the mole that also points to melanoma.
The ugly duckling concept was introduced in 1988 based on the observation that nevi (or moles) in one individual tend to look alike. This means that malignant melanoma usually deviates from the usual pattern of nevi on the body.
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