Diagnosis

Melanoma, a particularily aggressive form of skin cancer, is becoming far more common - your lifetime risk is now one in 62. Despite advances in cancer treatments over the last decade and the increased awareness of skin cancer, the survival rate for melanoma has not improved. 

Causes

Melanoma is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color. It can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance. Some moles that are present at birth may develop into melanomas.

There are four major types of melanoma:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type. It is usually flat and irregular in shape and color, with different shades of black and brown. It is most common in Caucasians.
  • Nodular melanoma usually starts as a raised area that is dark blackish-blue or bluish-red. However, some do not have any color.
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma usually occurs in the elderly. It is most common in sun-damaged skin on the face, neck, and arms. The abnormal skin areas are usually large, flat, and tan with areas of brown.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common form. It usually occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails and is more common in African Americans.

Rarely, melanomas appear in the mouth, iris of the eye, or retina at the back of the eye. They may be found during dental or eye examinations. Although very rare, melanoma can also develop in the vagina, esophagus, anus, urinary tract, and small intestine.

Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer. However, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing.

The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people.

You are more likely to develop melanoma if you:

  • Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red or blond hair
  • Live in sunny climates or at high altitudes
  • Spent a lot of time in high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
  • Have had one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
  • Use tanning devices

Other risk factors include:

  • Close relatives with a history of melanoma
  • Certain types of moles (atypical dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication

Symptoms

A mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin can be a sign of melanoma or other skin cancer. A sore or growth that bleeds, or changes in skin coloring may also be a sign of skin cancer.

The ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
  • Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
  • Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
  • Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter -- about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.

The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot if you don't look carefully. Have yearly body checks by a dermatologist, and examine your skin once a month. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

View Larger Map


Melanoma & Sarcoma Specialists
of Georgia

980 Johnson Ferry Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30342
(404) 851-6000



Copyright © 2014 Northside Hospital|Privacy Policy