While melanoma is less common, it is by far the most dangerous. It is the most common form of cancer among young adults age 25 to 29. Melanocytes are cells found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. These cells produce melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation. That’s why melanomas often present as dark brown or black spots on the skin. Melanomas spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer.In men, this skin cancer typically appears on the face or trunk, whereas in women is most commonly found on the lower legs. In both sexes, melanoma can develop on skin that hasn’t been exposed to sunlight. A melanoma sometimes develops as a mutation of an existing mole. In individuals with dark skin, melanoma tends to occur under the fingernails or toenails or on the palms or soles.
Melanomas look like moles and often do grow inside existing moles. That’s why it is important for people to conduct regular self-examinations of their skin in order to detect any potential skin cancer early, when it is treatable. Most melanomas are caused by overexposure to the sun beginning in childhood. This cancer also runs in families.
Melanoma is diagnosed via a biopsy. Treatments include surgical removal, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
The key to detecting a melanoma is to notice changes in your skin such as:
- Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
- Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.
- Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growths.
- Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.
- Brown or black streaks under the nails.
- A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.
- Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red.
The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following ABCDE guide for assessing whether or not a mole or other lesion may be becoming cancerous.
- Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.
- Border: The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
- Color: The mole is not the same color throughout.
- Diameter: The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.
- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.
Melanoma has to be treated promptly and completely, it can spread to other parts of the body within months. It has the highest mortality rates by far.