Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread quickly to other parts of the body (metastasize). Most melanomas appear as dark growths similar to moles, but some may be pink, red or skin-colored. Melanoma is very treatable when detected early but can be fatal if allowed to spread throughout the body. The goal is to detect melanoma early when it is still on the surface of the skin. Visit AIM at Melanoma Foundation to read facts and statistics about melanoma.
Sometimes the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking”. More advanced melanoma may have a hard or lumpy texture. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed but are usually not painful.
Excessive sun exposure, especially severe blistering sunburns during childhood or use of tanning beds, can cause melanoma. Early detection and treatment are critical to a successful recovery. We recommend that you get a baseline full body skin check with your dermatologist then follow up skin exams based on recommendations. Monthly self-exams are important for anyone at risk for developing skin cancer. Watch for these changes in moles and report them to your doctor:
- Asymmetry with one half of a mole a different appearance than the other half.
- Border edge is ragged, notched, or blurred.
- Color is uneven with a variety of hues in the same mole, with areas of black, brown, tan, white, grey, red, pink, or blue.
- Diameter increases to a size larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4-inch).
The best treatment is early detection! Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on your medical history and the depth and location of the melanoma. Depending on the size of the tumor, a referral to a surgeon who specializes in cancer surgery may be recommended. Examination by a dermatologist can help to determine whether a lesion is suspicious for melanoma.