Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It may appear without warning, or begin in a lesion or other dark spot in the skin.
Early Detection Is Vital
Melanoma can spread very quickly. Once it penetrates below the surface of the skin, it can become deadly. Survival rate is largely dependent upon the thickness of the melanoma. A patient with a melanoma of less than 0.75 mm thick can expect to have a cure rate of 95 percent with treatment. If left until greater than 4mm thick, the cure rate drops to less than 55 percent.
Types of Melanoma
There are several types of melanoma, including:
- Acral melanoma: This is an uncommon form of melanoma that often goes away. It is typically found on the sole of the foot or the palm of the hand
- Lentigo maligna melanoma: This is the most commonly found form of melanoma in elderly patients, usually located on the face or neck
- Melanoma (in situ): Also known as stage zero, this is the earliest form of melanoma and is totally treatable with complete excision
- Nodular melanoma: This is the most dangerous melanoma as the nodules are often very thick when diagnosed
- Superficial spreading melanoma: This is the most common type and it is the most amenable to simple excision
How to Identify Melanoma
The A. B. C. D. E. Rules
The following guidelines have proven effective in the early identification of superficial spreading melanomas. Superficial melanomas may meet any of the following criteria:
The shape of one half does not match the other.
The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred or irregular in outline. The pigment may also spread into the surrounding skin.
The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink or blue may also be seen.
Size changes and usually increases. Typically, melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter (the diameter of a pencil).
Any change in size, shape, color, elevation or any new symptoms may point to danger.
The E. F. G. Rules
Nodular melanoma, which represents about 20 percent of all cases of melanoma, does not subscribe to the A.B.C.D.E. rules and can go undetected. Fortunately, it behaves in a way that allows early identification using the E. F. G. rules. Lesions that are nodular melanoma meet the following criteria:
Lesions are raised above the skin’s surface.
Lesions will be firm to the touch.
Lesions will change and grow progressively. They are often very symmetrical.
In the early stages, any change might just be a sense of change rather than a visible one. Perhaps, the lesion is itchy or it just feels funny. Although this type of melanoma can affect anyone, it’s more common in men over 50. What’s frightening about nodular melanoma is that its quick growth allows it to deepen at even quicker speeds (within a few months). This is why nodular melanoma is so dangerous, requiring early diagnosis and removal.
When the Rules Don’t Apply
Melanoma does not always fit the A. B. C. D. E. or E. F. G. rules described above. Contact your physician or dermatologist if you notice a lesion is:
- Changing in shape, size or color
- Different from others
- Itching or bleeding
- Newly formed