In this article, we will explore the symptoms of melanoma, a form of skin cancer that requires early detection for effective treatment. It is essential to understand these signs and indicators to enable swift medical intervention and enhance outcomes. Let’s take a detailed look at the common symptoms of melanoma, different types of Melanoma Caner, diagnosis and treatments.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and the most common form of cancer in young adults aged 25-29. It can develop anywhere on the body, including the eyes, scalp, nails, feet, mouth, etc. Melanoma is primarily caused by DNA damage in the skin cells, often triggered by excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from sunlight or tanning beds. While anyone can develop melanoma, certain factors increase the risk, such as fair skin, a history of sunburns, family history of melanoma, numerous moles, and a weakened immune system.
In 2023, nearly 187,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma, and about 7,990 Americans are expected to die from it. According to a report from the British Skin Foundation, skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the UK, and its rates are on the rise. Each year, over 100,000 new cases are diagnosed, resulting in the loss of more than 2,500 lives annually. This means that, on average, seven individuals succumb to this disease every day in the UK. Since the early 1990s, the incidence rates of melanoma skin cancer in the UK have more than doubled. Melanoma skin cancer is more common in females than males in the UK, but mortality rates are higher in males than females.
The main risk factor for melanoma skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or artificial sources such as sunbeds. Melanoma skin cancer can be prevented by avoiding overexposure to UV radiation, wearing sun protection, and checking the skin regularly for any changes. It can be treated by surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy, depending on the stage and location of the tumor.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
(1) Changes in Moles:
Moles are skin growths composed of melanocytes. Pay attention to the following changes in moles, which may indicate melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
- Irregular Borders: The edges of the mole are uneven, ragged, or blurred.
- Varied Colors: The mole exhibits multiple colors or uneven color distribution.
- Diameter Changes: The mole’s size increases, typically exceeding 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser).
- Evolution or Change Over Time: The mole changes in shape, size, elevation, texture, or color.
Also Read: Different Types of Cancer
(2) New or Unusual Growths:
Be cautious of any new growths or changes in existing skin lesions:
- Raised or Dome-shaped Bumps: The appearance of a new mole or growth that is elevated from the skin’s surface.
- Pink or Flesh-colored Patches: Flat or slightly raised patches that differ in color from the surrounding skin.
- Scaly or Rough Texture: The surface of the growth may feel rough, scaly, or crusty. Bleeding or Oozing: Moles or growths that bleed, ooze, or don’t heal.
(3) Skin Changes:
Observe the following skin changes that may indicate melanoma:
- Redness or Inflammation: The skin surrounding a mole or growth becomes red, inflamed, or tender.
- Swelling or Lumps: The presence of swelling or lumps near a mole or growth.
- Skin Ulceration or Sores That Don’t Heal: Persistent sores or ulcers that don’t heal within a few weeks.
(4) Lymph Node Involvement:
Melanoma may spread to nearby lymph nodes, leading to the following signs:
- Enlarged or Hardened Lymph Nodes: The presence of swollen or hardened lymph nodes near the affected area.
Types of Melanoma
Melanoma can be classified into different subtypes based on their growth patterns and characteristics. Understanding these subtypes is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. The main types of melanoma include:
Superficial Spreading Melanoma
Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type and often appears as an irregularly shaped patch with uneven borders. It tends to grow horizontally across the top layer of the skin before penetrating deeper.
Nodular melanoma is a more aggressive subtype that grows vertically into the skin. It appears as a raised bump and may lack the typical signs of melanoma, such as color variations and irregular borders.
Lentigo Maligna Melanoma
Lentigo maligna melanoma usually affects older individuals and develops from a pre-existing condition called lentigo maligna. It appears as a large, flat, tan or brown patch with irregular borders.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma
Acral lentiginous melanoma, an uncommon variant, commonly targets the palms, soles, or nail regions of the body. It may appear as a dark streak or discoloration.
Amelanotic melanoma is characterized by the absence of pigmentation, making it difficult to detect. It may appear as a pink or flesh-colored bump or patch.
Subungual Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in the nail matrix, which is the part of the nail bed that produces keratin. It usually appears as a brown or black streak under a fingernail or toenail, but it can also cause other changes in the nail, such as bleeding, cracking, thinning, or separating from the nail bed. Subungual melanoma is a rare but serious condition that can spread to other organs if not detected and treated early. The main risk factor for subungual melanoma is trauma or injury to the nail. It is more common in people with darker skin and older adults.
Also Read: Different Types of Skin Cancer
Other Subtypes of Melanoma
Other less common subtypes of melanoma include desmoplastic melanoma, mucosal melanoma, and ocular melanoma. Each subtype has distinct characteristics and requires specialized diagnosis and treatment approaches.
When to Seek Medical Attention:
It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly if you notice any of the above signs or symptoms. Early detection plays a vital role in the successful treatment of melanoma. Additionally, individuals with a personal or family history of melanoma should perform regular self-examinations and consult a healthcare professional if any concerning changes are detected.
Risk Factors and High-Risk Groups:
Several factors increase the risk of developing melanoma. These include:
- Fair Skin: People with fair skin, especially those who burn easily and have light hair and eye colors, are more susceptible to melanoma. The higher levels of melanin in darker skin provide some natural protection against UV damage.
- History of Sunburns: Experiencing multiple sunburns, particularly during childhood and adolescence, increases the risk of developing melanoma later in life. Protecting the skin from excessive sun exposure and avoiding sunburns is crucial.
- Prolonged Sun Exposure: Spending long hours in the sun, especially without adequate sun protection measures, raises the risk of melanoma. This includes both recreational sun exposure and occupational exposure to sunlight.
- Indoor Tanning: Using tanning beds and lamps increases the risk of melanoma, as they emit harmful UV radiation. It is advisable to completely refrain from artificial tanning.
- Presence of Numerous Moles: Individuals with a larger number of moles on their bodies, especially atypical or dysplastic moles, have a higher risk of developing melanoma. Regular self-examination and professional skin checks are essential for monitoring changes in moles.
- Family History: Having a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a history of melanoma increases the risk of developing the disease. Genetic factors may contribute to this increased susceptibility.
- Weakened Immune System: People with a weakened immune system, such as organ transplant recipients or those with certain medical conditions, are at a higher risk of developing melanoma. Immunosuppressive medications can also contribute to this increased risk.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you notice any concerning signs or symptoms, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation. They may perform the following diagnostic procedures:
Dermoscopy: Examination of the skin using a dermatoscope, a handheld device that magnifies and illuminates the skin.
Biopsy: Removal of a sample of suspicious skin tissue for laboratory analysis.
Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs can be utilized to assess the degree of cancer metastasis.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Removal and examination of the first lymph node(s) that cancer is likely to spread to.
Treatment options for melanoma depend on various factors, including the stage of cancer. They may include:
- Surgery: Removal of the cancerous growth along with a margin of healthy tissue. In advanced cases, lymph nodes or other affected areas may also be removed.
- Immunotherapy: Stimulation of the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: Use of drugs that specifically target genetic mutations or proteins involved in cancer growth.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy beams to destroy cancer cells or relieve symptoms in advanced cases.
- Chemotherapy: Medications that kill cancer cells, mainly used for advanced or metastatic melanoma.
Prevention and Sun Safety:
Taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk of melanoma:
- Limit sun exposure during peak hours (10 am to 4 pm) when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Seek shade and use protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses when outdoors.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on exposed skin, reapplying every two hours.
- Avoid tanning beds and artificial sources of UV radiation.
- Perform regular self-examinations of the skin, looking for any changes in moles or the development of new growths.
- Schedule regular skin checks with a dermatologist, especially if you have risk factors or a history of melanoma.
Awareness of the common signs and symptoms of melanoma is crucial for early detection and timely intervention. If you notice any changes in your skin, moles, or growths, consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis. By understanding the risk factors and taking preventive measures, such as practicing sun safety, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing melanoma. Remember, early detection and treatment offer the best chances of successful outcomes in melanoma management.