A Mountain of Trouble from a Mole — What to Know about Melanoma Skin Cancer

It’s the peak of summer and that means one thing — more fun in the sun! We all know that daily exposure to UV rays can cause burns, wrinkles and even a leathery texture; and while wearing sunblock at the beach and oversized sunglasses while driving help to ward off some of the harmful rays, frequent self-checks for irregular moles and bumps are a must to identify skin cancer spots before they spread.

What to Know About Melanoma

Melanoma is a somewhat rare form of skin cancer that accounts for only about 4% of diagnoses, but is responsible for approximately 77% of skin cancer-related deaths.* While the specific causes of melanoma aren’t known, this type of skin cancer occurs as DNA damage appears in the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) which are responsible for your skin’s outward appearance.

While normal skin cells rise to the surface and eventually slough off, the damaged cells may grow uncontrollably and form masses of cancerous cells, known as malignant melanomas. Doctors suspect a combination of environmental factors — such as smoking, and overexposure to UV radiation (especially from tanning beds) — and genes cause the aggressive, potentially fatal cell damage that produces melanomas.

Unlike the other two, far more common, types of skin cancers, active melanoma can spread beneath the surrounding skin tissue, and sometimes to remote organs. Because of its ability to move throughout the body, it is imperative that you maintain a list of spots to watch, and visit a dermatologist regularly.

Melanoma is a highly individualized condition, and the treatments available — and how invasive they will be — vary on a per case basis. At Olde Del Mar Surgical, we are highly skilled in multiple melanoma cancer surgeries and work hard to ensure you receive the level of care necessary to keep you healthy. If detected early, thin melanomas can be surgically excised or shaved off in layers until healthy skin is revealed. If the tumor returns or spreads widely, chemo- and radiation therapy may be necessary.

Know Your ABCs about Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using “the ABC method” to self-check for any skin abnormalities that could predict melanoma skin cancer:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape
    Search for moles or bumps that vary in shape, such as having two very different halves or look like one is “stacked” upon another.
  • B is for irregular borders
    Keep an eye out for irregular, notched or scalloped edges — these are characteristic of cancerous melanomas.
  • C is for changes in color
    Double-check any spots that have multiple colors (especially dark brown or black) within one growth or an uneven distribution of pigment.
  • D is for diameter
    Moles that continue growing to larger than 1/4 inch (about the size of a pencil eraser) are also characteristic of melanomas.
  • E is for evolving
    Moles that change over time, such as growing larger or changing color or shape should be checked immediately; so should any that develop signs of irritation, like itchiness or bleeding.

Don’t forget to check those easy-to-forget spots (like your shoulders, neck and nose, and the backs of your knees and arms) that are more frequently exposed to UV rays. If you’re worried about a particular mole or bump, see your dermatologist as soon as possible.

Should you discover you have melanoma, our surgeons at Olde Del Mar are available to give you a thorough consult and examination, helping you determine as many options as possible to remove the cancerous cells with the least amount of damage to the surrounding skin and tissue.

To learn more about your skin cancer surgery options at Olde Del Mar Surgical, schedule your consultation online or call (858) 457–4917.

* Source: http://www.dermatology.ucsf.edu/skincancer/professionals/types.aspx

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