Cancerous Moles and Melanoma: Frequently Asked Questions

An estimated 91,270 American adults are diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer every year. It is the fifth most common type of cancer among adult males and the sixth most common type of cancer in adult females in the United States, as well. For many patients, the first sign of melanoma is an atypical mole, but there are other symptoms you might not be aware of.

If you or a loved one were recently diagnosed with melanoma, here are some answers to a few commonly asked questions you might have.

What Exactly Is Melanoma?

The color of a person’s skin is determined by pigment-manufacturing cells called melanocytes, which are located in the basal skin layer. When DNA cells inside the melanocytes mutate, and allowed to multiply unchecked, a tumor called a melanoma can form.

Melanomas can form either in an existing mole or in the basal layer of the skin where there is no mole present. In this case, the melanoma will take on the appearance of a mole.

What Are the Symptoms of Melanoma?

The most common symptom of melanoma is the formation of a new mole or patch of dark pigmentation or noticeable changes to an existing mole. The simplest way to determine if a mole or discoloration is melanoma is to use the ABCDE test. Each letter represents a characteristic of a mole that is associated with melanoma.

For example, the letter A stands for Asymmetry. A cancerous mole will often have an irregular, asymmetric shape. The letter C stands for Color because a cancerous mole will change in color, not be a uniform color, or blue, pink, white, or purple.

Here are a few of the other common symptoms of melanoma:

  • A mole that changes texture or begins to bleed
  • A sore that heals irregularly
  • Itching or an irregular pigmentation around a mole

The symptoms of melanoma can vary from patient to patient. The best way to determine if a mole is cancerous is to contact your doctor.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Melanoma?

Anyone can develop melanoma. However, there are certain risk factors associated with the illness. For example, melanoma is more prevalent in individuals with lighter skin, blue or green eyes, and naturally lighter hair. People with compromised immunes system and family histories of melanoma are more susceptible.

Men are twice as likely to develop melanoma as women are, as well.

Two of the biggest risk factors associated with melanoma are childhood sunburns and excessive exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, rays. These rays come from the sun and tanning beds. People who live in higher elevations or closer to the equator are more susceptible to melanoma because they are exposed to excessive ultraviolet rays.

How Is Melanoma Diagnosed and Treated?

If you have a mole that suddenly appeared, is becoming irregular in shape, or simply doesn’t look right, visit your doctor right away. Your doctor will begin by taking a through medical history and performing a physical exam. Your physician will ask if you have a history of cancer or if any close relative has been diagnosed with cancer.

Your doctor will take a small sample of the affected mole, called a biopsy. There are two common biopsies the doctor will perform: a punch biopsy or excisional biopsy.

If a small piece of the mole is removed, it is referred to as a punch biopsy. During an excisional biopsy, the entire mole and some skin surrounding the mole are removed.

When melanoma is caught early, it is often very treatable. The treatment typically involves removing the affected mole and, if necessary, any cancerous skin surrounding the mole. For individuals with more advanced melanoma, the doctor might recommend chemotherapy, radiation, or other targeted therapies.

How Can My Loved Ones and I Avoid Melanoma?

Prevention is the best way to avoid developing melanoma. The most effective method is to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. If you must be in the sun, cover as much of the skin as possible, wear a hat, and use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin at least 30 minutes before spending time in the sun. This will allow the product to absorb into the skin.

Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you are active and sweating, you may need to reapply sunscreen more often.

Tanning beds zap your skin with targeted ultraviolet rays and should be completely avoided. In addition to aging your skin prematurely, using tanning beds several times a week or month can greatly increase your risk of developing melanoma.

Melanoma is a common type of skin cancer that is highly treatable if caught early. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact the professionals at Stellis Health.