Malignant melanoma is a form of cancer which affects the skin. It has the potential to be very deadly – but, as it appears on the skin, people with melanoma have a fighting chance of detecting it early and getting it dealt with before it has a chance to become truly dangerous. As it’s summer, and most melanomas are linked to sun exposure, this seems as good a time as any to help our lovely readership in finding and identifying potential melanomas:
Moles and melanomas
Melanomas got their name due to the fact that they start in melanocytes (the cells of your skin which produce melanin – the brown pigment responsible for tanning). The paler your skin, the harder your melanocytes must work to protect you from the sun, and the more vulnerable they are to the kind of long-term sun damage which can turn cancerous.
Because they start in melanocytes, most melanomas look like large freckles or moles when they first become visible. And, because melanomas most commonly appear on areas which have been exposed to the sun, these are the areas you should prioritize when scrutinising your skin for anything suspicious.
Don’t worry – most moles are perfectly harmless. However, if you’ve got a mole that’s recently appeared, or which seems to be changing shape, it’s probably worth a closer look.
Melanoma warning signs
If your mole is a potential melanoma, it may have one or more of the ‘ABCDE’ features:
- A – Asymmetry. Jagged edges or an otherwise irregular shape.
- B – Border. This is related to Asymmetry, but involves honing in more on the border of the mole. Look for notches or graininess around the edges of the mole.
- C – Colour. Uneven or blotchy colouring.
- D – Diameter. If your mole is larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil, and it hasn’t always been like that, this could be cause for concern.
- E – Evolution. The mole is growing, or changing shape, or otherwise is behaving abnormally.
- Sores which refuse to heal.
- Dark spots or blurs in the iris (the iris, too, has pigment cells which can be affected by the sun)
- Pigment ‘bleed’(when pigment ‘bleeds’ into the surrounding skin. Redness, itching, and swelling may also be present at the site)
- Changes in texture, discharge, swelling(a patch of skin behaving like this over time for no discernible reason should always be checked out by a doctor).
Of these, Evolution is probably the one which causes the most concern. Many people have non-symmetrical, large, and/or blotchy moles which are perfectly harmless. But if a mole is changing to become any of these things (or changing in other ways), this may well be a sign that there’s something else going on.
Other warning signs
Not all melanomas present like abnormal moles. Other symptoms to look out for include:
What to do if you find something which worries you
If you’ve found something on your skin that you’re not sure about, make an appointment with your GP or head to a walk-in clinic. It is far better to be safe than sorry in these circumstances.
A GP or qualified medical professional will be able to cast a knowledgeable eye over the area. They may take a scraping or sample for tests. If it turns out to be nothing, your mind will be at rest and the doctor or nurse will be pleased that you’re being so diligent. If there is cause for further investigation, you’ll know that your quick actions have (almost literally) nipped something potentially quite nasty in the bud.