Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, refers to the tumour of melanin-forming cells on the skin. It is essentially a malignant tumour which is associated with skin cancer. Out of the three types of cells that exist in the topmost layer of our body (squamous cells, basal cells and melanocytes), melanoma leads to tumour growth in melanocytes.
Melanocytes produces melanin, a pigment that gives skin its tan and a brownish colour. Melanin provides a protects the skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. When melanoma affects melanocytes, two things can happen – the cells can continue to produce melanin, thus giving it a brown or black appearance or they stop producing the pigment, leaving the affected area pink, white or tan.
Melanoma can affect any part of the body, however, these are common on the chest and the back in case of men and on legs in case of women. Neck and face are other common areas affected by melanoma whereas eyes, mouth, genitalia and anal area are the uncommon areas.
The risk of developing melanoma lowers if you have a dark pigmented skin. However, in such cases, it may manifest itself under the nails, on the palms and soles of the feet. Melanoma appears in the form of an unusual mole, lump, blemish, sore or a marking on the skin. Therefore, it is important for you to pay attention to how the skin looks or feel as it may be a sign or melanoma or other form of skin cancer.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Early stages of melanoma may not be that easy to diagnose. Therefore, it is important that you notice even minute changes in the skin or the appearance of a new spot on the skin. Pay attention to whether a spot on the skin is changing in terms of colour, size or shape.
Skin spot affected by melanoma may sometime becomes sore. In fact, it may even bleed or itch. It is not necessary for melanoma to appear as a new spot altogether; it may even appear as a bruise or a brown streak below the nails of the hand and toes.
Melanoma may also appear around existing moles or visible marks on the skin. Often, any visible change in colour, shape or size of an existing mole or a mark on the skin is the most important warning sign of melanoma. Go and check with the doctor as soon as possible in case you observe any of these changes in the skin.
ABCDE of Melanoma
The ABCDE system correctly explains what symptoms you must look for to identify whether it is melanoma:
A (Asymmetry): Look for changes in the skin in terms of symmetry. In case of melanoma, one half of the mole or a mark does not resemble the other half at all.
B (Border irregularity): Observe the border of the mole in question. Blurred, ragged or notched border is a sign of melanoma.
C (Colour): In case of melanoma, the colour of the mole may vary throughout the same mole.
D (Diameter): Be warned in case the diameter of the mole or the growth on the skin is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser. This could be a melanoma.
E (Evolution): Look for changes in the size, shape and colour because in case of melanoma, they continually evolve. You must also look for tenderness or itchiness and changes on the surface, such as bleeding.
In case the melanoma affects an existing mole or a mark on the skin, you may witness elevation, oozing, crusting, scaling, redness or swelling. In addition, you may also notice tingling or burning sensation or may even see small pieces breaking off from the affected region.