Melanoma is almost no different from a normal skin growth or spot in its earliest stages. The complete opposite is true once the disease has spread. In fact, melanoma accounts for most deaths related to cancers of the skin, despite being the rarest type. See what is melanoma cancer for more details on this type.
A qualified plastic surgeon can easily remove an in situ melanoma. Additional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be essential to ensure complete removal of malignant cells. Once melanoma has advanced from its early stages, treatment may only be possible to improve the quality of life, such as reducing pain, but not to remove tumors entirely. It is for such reasons that understanding early symptoms of melanoma and its signs is very important.
Early melanoma warning signs
A sign is something that can be seen by another person. For example, a lump on the skin is a sign, while pain is a symptom.
Early melanoma warning signs often appear on the skin in form of an abnormal mole, spot or blemish. So how does a normal mole look like?
Most people have moles. Small spots or patches of discoloration may also occur throughout the skin. Moles usually are brown or black in color. They have defined borders which mostly result in oval or round shape. Most of them are smaller than a pencil eraser and will be present by the age of 20. Normally, moles don’t undergo regular or noticeable changes. Some do, however, disappear after several years.
All moles are classified as benign skin tumors. However, melanomas have a tendency of mimicking these harmless growths or originating in them. This makes it very important to keep an eye on your moles and any regions of discoloration on the skin.
Melanoma is a result of melanocytes that have gone out of control in terms or regulated division as well as normal cell death. However, these cells are still able to make melanin or skin pigment. This means that areas in which melanoma early signs are present will be heavily pigmented than surrounding areas. Early signs can therefore be caught by paying extra, advisably medical attention to skin regions that rapidly change in coloration. This includes streaks that appear under nails but not related to recent cases of injury. You can browse through acral lentiginous melanoma pictures for illustrated details.
Using ABCDEs to identify melanoma signs
When learning more about melanoma signs, you will come about the ABCDEs. They are commonly used to identify first signs of melanoma especially on areas such as on face, on chest and on scalp.
A rectangle can be divided into two halves that mirror each other. The same cannot be said about a trapezium. The latter is said to be asymmetrical. This property is shared by malignant moles or spots on skin.
Borders are the points at which discoloration ends. For normal moles, a line tracing these points will make a regular shape such as a circle. If the same experiment is repeated on a malignant mole, the resulting shape will be irregular.
As mentioned earlier, most people develop brown, black or tan moles. Whichever the color, it will be consistent throughout the mole. Most malignant moles will not show such consistency. While most may be brown or black, they will also have several other colors such as blue, yellow or orange.
A mole as thick as 6mm is normal. This is as long as it has been that size since you can last recall. If most of the mass has been gained in a short timeline however, it is no good sign. In fact, if a skin growth jumps from 1mm to 2mm thickness, have it checked immediately.
You probably know this term from biology class or some theory by Darwin. The basics of evolution are that plants and animals keep changing with time. This is same with melanomas. Today, a melanoma may be less than 1mm, brown in color and regularly shaped. Some days or months after, a 2mm thick, multiple colored, irregular tumor may have developed.
The ABCDEs can only be used for diagnosis on areas of the body that allow for physical examination. Tumors on back, on scalp and such areas may require some help.
Other melanoma warning signs
It is common for melanomas to become ulcerated. The main difference between this type of ulceration and the type we are used to is that the former doesn’t heal. This increases the risk of some malignant cells finding a way into blood vessels.
Some melanomas tend to constantly itch. If this is accompanied by a couple of other signs we have identified, it is best that medical attention be sought as soon as possible.
Pain or tenderness
There are many cellular activities that go on in melanoma cells. This leads to constant changes in how the tumor is textured or feels to the touch. Pain occurs when tumors press against a nerve or a blood vessel.
Melanomas that begin in already existing moles are harder to catch early. Spitzoid melanoma in adults is a good example. The unique characteristic is that malignant tumors are never dormant. Soon enough, you will see changes such as a new bump growing on the side of the original mole or discoloration spreading to surrounding skin.
Signs and symptoms of melanoma based on stages
The stage a melanoma is in greatly influences the treatment option to be used. Although diagnosis reports are the only ones that can confirm the stage, symptoms may help predict the same.
It is at this stage that first signs appear. Here, malignancy is confined to melanocytes found in the epidermis. Discoloration in a small skin region will most likely be the first sign.
More melanoma cells have been made. This means that they require more space to occupy. The previously small discolored area will spread across the skin.
Here, malignancy is no longer confined to the epidermis. Tumors have reached the dermis and will soon reach lymphatic and blood vessels. A dome-shaped lump may develop. Tumors in this stage are usually more than 2mm in thickness. Ulceration may also be present.
Lymph nodes that contain melanin and located closest to the primary tumor have been invaded. At first, there will be no signs of enlargement in the nodes. By as more melanoma cells are made, affected lymph nodes will swell. The primary tumor may be ulcerated, larger than 4mm or still spreading across the skin. It also may be painful.
Malignancy has spread to distant organs such as the brain and lungs. In fact, the primary tumor is no longer the main cause for concern. Widespread signs and symptoms will occur. Most will largely depend on the affected organ:
- Brain – seizures, headaches and numbness in extremities
- Liver – reduced liver function, loss of weight, nausea, vomiting, lump in abdomen
- Bones – loss of bone density resulting in frequent fractures
- Lungs – chronic cough, blood in cough and chest pain
- Subcutaneous skin layer – other lumps elsewhere in the skin
Melanoma signs on different body parts
Any organ in the body where melanocytes are produced can develop or be invaded by melanoma. It may be interesting to know that even internal organs and body cavities contain these cells.
Regardless, largest numbers are found on the skin, hair and eyes. Melanoma signs on the following body parts may include:
- In mucosal membranes – mucosal melanoma symptoms depend on where the tumors have developed. They may include nasal blocks, anal bleeding, pain before/after sex and a white spot in the mouth.
- On face – facial skin has the highest number of melanocytes. Signs will mostly revolve around sudden new moles or moles that gradually change. The same can be said of other cutaneous melanomas such as on the chest, on arm, on leg or on back.
- On nails – the big toe and thumb are the most common areas that melanoma on nails appears. Early signs revolve around a dark streak in the nail matrix or nail plate. A fleshly, red or pink nodule may also appear on the skin near the nail plate. See subungual melanoma pictures for illustrations. Melanoma on toe or finger is sometimes removed by amputating the affected toe or finger.
- In eyes – common signs of eye melanomas include blurred vision, changes in size or position of pupil, seeing shadows and flashes, eye pain and presence of a lump in the conjunctiva.
- On scalp – most melanomas on the scalp are discovered by accident, such as during routine skin checkups or by a hair stylist. Signs resemble those of other cutaneous melanomas.
- On hands and feet – the melanoma that develops on hands and feet is a very slow growing. This is both a good and a bad characteristic. Slow growth means that a patient will likely dismiss it for a normal blemish. Fast growth will however result in quicker metastasis. In most cases, a spot or patch of discolored skin will be among the first signs.
- On genitals – melanoma on vagina or vulva may be indicated by signs such as vaginal discharge, presence of a lump, bleeding and pain before/after sex. Melanoma on penis may be indicated by color changes in a localized region or presence of a bump with no apparent cause.
Only a doctor can confirm diagnosis after performing necessary tests. After this, melanoma treatment guidelines will be developed depending on factors such as location of the tumor, its thickness, health status and age of the patient. This will be done by a multidisciplinary team.
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