There are three distinct types of skin cancer. The most common of these are squamous cell and basal cell cancers. Melanoma is the third form of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes grow at a rapid and uncontrolled rate. These are the cells that give skin its brownish or tan hue.
Although melanoma isn't as common as other skin cancers, it can be incredibly dangerous if it isn't detected and treated early on. When melanoma is allowed to progress unchecked, it can eventually spread to other areas of the body, including the organs. Fortunately, there are several tell-tale signs of a developing melanoma that people can look for. Knowing these warning signs is important for knowing when to seek medical treatment.
Any unusual sores, marks, or moles that develop on the skin are worth having your doctor examine. This is especially true if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with skin cancer before, or if you have other known risk factors. The ugly duckling sign for melanoma is the rapid or sudden development of any mole or other skin blemish that looks completely different from all other marks on your skin. Blemishes such as these are referred to as ugly ducklings given that they stand out from all other normal skin markings.
Normal moles usually have an even color all-around. They might be black, tan, or brown, and they can be either raised for flat. Normal, harmless moles come in both perfectly round and oval shapes, and they are generally smaller than the width of the average pencil eraser. Some people are born with moles, while others develop new moles all throughout adolescence and young adulthood. However, once people enter their thirties and forties, they should take care to have all of the new moles checked by their doctors.
One of the most concerning signs that any mole can exhibit is a noticeable change in size, color, or texture. These changes indicate the formation of new cells and may mean that melanocyte growth is spiraling out of control. Moles that become darker, lighter, larger, or rougher are cause for concern.
In addition to remaining fairly static in color, texture, and size, a mole shouldn't be painful. When the skin that surrounds a mole becomes red or uncomfortable to touch, it is important to have it checked out. Other possible indications of melanoma include open sores at the borders of moles that won't stop bleeding or won't heal, swelling, scaling, or oozing.
Not all moles are easily visible on the surface of the skin. Some melanomas form under the fingernails or toenails, in the iris of the eye, on the scalp, or even within the mouth. It is also common for this cancer to develop on the outer shoulders or mid-portion of the back, or in other areas that people cannot easily investigate on their own. Thus, those who've had cancer in the past and those who've been deemed high-risk for melanoma or other skin cancers should schedule comprehensive mole checks at least once or twice each year.
When melanomas develop under the fingernails or toenails, people may notice that their nail beds are discolored or even chronically sore. Melanomas that develop in the iris eventually affect the vision and may cause blurring, double vision, or general eye irritation. Similarly, melanomas that form in the mouth may make talking, chewing, and even swallowing difficult. These are all important changes to mention when having a mole check performed, especially for anyone who's deemed as high-risk.
Risk factors are conditions, life habits, or other factors that increase a person's likelihood of developing a disease. For melanoma, people can have both manageable and unmanageable risk factors. For instance, if you smoke, regularly drink to excess, or spend long periods of time in the sun, you have a higher risk of developing this form of skin cancer when compared to someone who does not do these things. You also have the ability to stop smoking, limit your drink, and wear quality sunblock.
Risk factors for melanoma that cannot be managed or mitigated include genetic predisposition, a history of skin cancer, a high prevalence of both normal and atypical moles, fair skin, freckles, and extremely light-colored hair. People with one or more of these risks factors should take extra care to minimize their risks, such as by avoiding excess sun exposure and limiting unhealthy life habits. When deemed necessary by their doctors, naturally high-risk individuals should also have professional mole checks performed several times per year.
Mole checks give doctors the chance to diagnose developing melanomas and start treatments right away. It's important to note that the visible portion of melanoma is rarely the full measure of cancer that exists. Even as cancerous moles expand in size at the surface of the skin, these same growths are often expanding downwards into the tissues and other structures that lie beneath the skin. Thus, the sooner that treatments are started; the less invasive they'll invariably be. Early treatment times also allow for significantly better prognoses for both melanoma and all other skin cancer types.