Moles are often deemed as assets that add beauty to the body. They’re poetic, iconic, and even sexy. Yet, while most moles help improve your appearance, some also pose possible health risks. In some cases, they might even indicate the presence of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
If you have a high number of moles on your body or noticing odd dark spots on your skin, you might be at risk of developing melanoma. Find out the signs and symptoms of this deadly condition.
What is melanoma?
Generally, there are three main types of skin cancer. These are called basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Compared to the first two, melanoma is the least common to occur, constituting only 1% of all recorded skin cancers. Yet, it is also the most serious and the leading cause of death for people diagnosed with skin disease. Its deadly nature is due to its ability to spread to other places in the body by entering the bloodstream or traveling through the lymph nodes.
To be more specific, melanoma develops in cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce what we call melanin, a type of pigment responsible for our skin, hair, and eye color. When the DNA in melanocyte cells gets damaged, this could cause mutations and lead to melanoma.
To date, the real cause of DNA damage in melanocytes that lead to melanoma remains unclear. Some develop the disease even without a clear cause. However, various studies already suggest that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun and other harsh elements can damage the DNA in skin cells, thereby causing melanoma.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma?
Changes in the appearance of an existing mole are often the first sign of melanoma. In other cases, the sudden emergence of an odd-looking mole on the skin may also indicate the presence of this type of skin cancer.
Generally, changes in mole appearance vary from person to person. Hence, it’s not easy to deduce whether a mole is cancerous or not. You may, however, follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s “ABCDE” rule to identify the warning signs of an unusual mole.
- Asymmetry: The two halves are not the same in shape, size, or feel.
- Border irregularity: The edges are irregular or poorly defined.
- Color: There is no uniform color. Different shades of brown, black, and tan may be present.
- Diameter: Often bigger than 6mm in diameter.
- Evolving: It changes in size, shape, or color over time.
Other signs of a cancerous mole also include:
- Moles or dark spots that are itchy and tender
- Moles or dark spots that bleed
- Moles or dark spots that appear or feel crusty
What are the types of melanoma?
There are four main types of melanoma of the skin. These are:
- Superficial spreading melanoma
This is the most common type of melanoma, accounting for about 70% of all melanoma skin cancers. As the name implies, this type of melanoma may start as a mole or a new pigment that grows on the surface of the skin and later on penetrates more deeply. It may appear in any part of the body but is most commonly seen on the torso and legs. In terms of appearance, it is often flat and comes with irregular borders.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma
This is the type of melanoma that commonly affects older adults and occurs on sun-damaged skin. At its early age, it may start as a lentigo maligna, also called a Hutchinson melanotic freckle, which grows on the outer layer of the skin. Once it penetrates beneath the skin, it becomes lentigo maligna melanoma. It often develops on the head and neck parts of the body.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma
This is the type of melanoma that affects mostly people with dark skin, especially those in Africa and with Asian roots. It often appears as a dark or brown pigment similar to a bruise or stain. ALM often grows in areas that are hard to notice, such as the soles of the feet or even under the nails.
- Nodular melanoma
Nodular melanoma is the most aggressive type of melanoma, growing and spreading faster than all other forms of melanoma skin cancer. As to its appearance, a nodular melanoma sticks out as a dark bump. It is commonly in blue-black color, but may also appear in other colors, such as red. Similar to Lentigo maligna melanoma, this type of melanoma is commonly found in areas that are often exposed to the sun, such as the head, arms, legs, and torso.
Tips to Lessen the Risk of Melanoma
While further research is needed to understand melanoma more clearly, current studies already help shed light on the safest ways to avoid developing this serious type of skin cancer. These include:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Use sunblock or sunscreen every day
- Avoid pinching or scratching your moles
- Avoid or limit the use of tanning beds or machines
- Regularly examine your body for changes in moles or appearance of new dark spots
- Consult your doctor if you notice even slight changes in your moles and/or skin.
The bottom line
Noticing changes in your moles? Observing newly-emerged dark spots on your body? Prevention is always better than cure. No matter how small these changes to your moles are, it’s best to give them the right care and attention. This practice of due diligence is even more important if you have many moles or a family history of melanoma.
Schedule an appointment with us!
If you have been diagnosed with melanoma or know someone who has, you can avail a unique combination of traditional, alternative, and holistic cancer therapy here at New Hope Unlimited. You may visit us at our site or call us at 480-696-5330 to schedule a consultation.