Melanoma: What You Should Know

More than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, making it the leading form of the disease. There are three main types of skin cancer, including the more common basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas that are rarely life threatening. But the third type – melanoma – can be dangerous and even fatal if not detected and treated in the early stages.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 69,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed and about 8,650 people die of the disease annually. Melanoma can be cured, but it has to be detected first. Here are a few tips to identify the disease.

Melanoma can appear in the skin without warning. It may originate in or near a mole or other dark skin area. The first sign of melanoma may be a sore, lump, skin growth or change in the size, shape, color or touch of an existing mole. Melanoma also may cause bleeding from a skin growth. Features of a cancerous mole usually include the following characteristics.

  • Asymmetry – The abnormal area is not perfectly round.
  • Border – Melanomas have irregular edges that may be ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Color – A lesion or growth may have uneven color with shades of black, brown and tan, as well as white, gray, pink, red or even blue.
  • Diameter – Most, but not all, melanomas are larger than a quarter of an inch (about the size of a pencil eraser).

People at increased risk for developing melanomas are more likely to be those who have fair skin, a personal or family history of melanoma, many moles (more than 60), a weakened immune system, severe sunburns at a young age, and extended exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Melanomas can occur on any skin surface as well as in the eye. It often develops on the lower legs in women and is typically found on the head, neck or between the shoulders and hips in men. People with dark skin rarely develop melanoma. However, if they do, the disease tends to appear under fingernails or toenails, or on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Treatment for melanoma is determined by the location, thickness and depth of the tumor, whether melanoma cells have spread to other parts of the body, and the patient's overall health and age. Surgery usually is recommended to remove the growth as well as some normal tissue surrounding the cancer to reduce the chance of leaving any cancer cells behind. If cancer has spread, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these methods may be necessary.

To prevent skin cancer, use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, avoid tanning beds, wear protective clothing and minimize exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you notice any change in your skin or a mole, check with your doctor as soon as possible.   For more information about melanoma, talk with your doctor or for a free physician referral to a specialist near you call 936-568-3289 / toll free 1-866-898-8446 or go to:

Telephone number for Loma Laird Cancer Center:  936-568-3541.