Warning Signs Of Melanoma

While Melanoma is one of the most rare forms of skin cancer, it is also one of the most deadly. That is why it is important to know what the warning signs of melanoma are and what to do if you suspect you have the disease.

Melanoma is a very rare but lethal form of skin cancer. The disease first attacks cells in the skin and eventually will spread to the lymph nodes and other vital organs. Melanoma can happen in men as well as women, and the risk for contracting the disease increases with age. It should be noted, however, that persons of all ages can develop melanoma, and it is quickly becoming one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in young adults. Melanoma kills over 7,000 people a year in the US alone.

Melanoma begins in the melanocytes-the skin cells that produce the skin's color or pigment. Black or brown bruise-like lesions on the skin usually characterize the onset of the disease. These "bruises" are actually cancerous tumors. These tumors will usually appear on the trunks of men and the legs of women.

Many people make the dangerous mistake of confusing a melanoma with a mole. A normal mole is usually even colored, round in shape, and is less than 1/4 inch in diameter. And while moles can be developed at any time in a person's life, the mole will usually remain the same in size and shape for several years once developed. While most moles are harmless, sudden or abnormal changes to the size, shape, or color of a mole may indicate melanoma.

In order to differentiate between a mole and a melanoma, one should keep the ABCD Rule in mind. The American Cancer Society developed this rule to help people identify some of the most common warning signs of melanoma:

Asymmetry: Moles that are uneven or have sides that don't match the other are considered asymmetrical. These kinds of moles are more common with melanoma.

Border Irregularity: Normal moles should have clear and smooth borders. Melanomas, however tend to have ragged edges.

Color: Another warning sign is if the mole in question varies in color, or has patches of blue, red, white, or purple. Normal moles tend to be all one color.

Diameter: The mole is larger than 1/4 inch in diameter. It should be noted that while most moles are not larger than ΒΌ inch in diameter, melanoma is now being seen in much smaller moles that just a few years ago. Because of this, it is important to pay close attention to a mole's color, border, and symmetry and not just its size.

Since changes in the skin can often be subtle, it is important to check your skin for irregularities at least once a month. Self-examination is a very valuable tool in the fight against melanoma. When examining your skin, make sure you familiarize yourself with any moles, freckles, or other marks. Changes in the patterns of any of these marks may indicate melanoma.

You should perform your self-exam in front of a full-length mirror. For harder to view areas, make sure you also use a smaller handheld mirror. You should thoroughly examine your face, scalp, hands, legs, and body for any irregularities. Be very aware of any unexplained marks or sores that are painful, swollen, itchy, or, oozing, as this is often a sign that cancer may be developing.

If you notice anything unusual, you should see your doctor right away. He or she will examine all questionable marks carefully and check for any unusual bleeding, oozing, or scaling. Your lymph nodes will also be checked for any swelling, as this is often a sign that the cancer is spreading to other parts of the body. If cancer is suspected, your doctor will order that a biopsy be performed. A biopsy involves actually removing a sample of the lesion and sending it to the lab for analysis. The lab will then look at the biopsy under a microscope to determine if any cancer exists.

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