Almost any tissue or organ in the body can develop cancer. For easier identification, cancers are named according to the part they invade. The type that originates in melanocytes or the cells that give color to the skin is called melanoma. It is the most aggressive, invasive and deadly skin cancer of all.
Melanoma is not very common. It accounts for about 15% of all skin cancer related cases. The disease is very treatable when caught early. In fact, stage I melanoma 5-year survival rate is above 90%. This drops drastically as the disease advances towards stage IV.
Doctors strongly advise that people learn how to detect early warning signs of this cancer. This article examines the different types of melanomas there are and how they can be identified.
What does melanoma skin cancer look like?
As hinted earlier, melanoma is a cancer. Cancers are growths with the ability to migrate and invade other body tissues or organs. This type originates in melanocytes.
So what does melanoma skin cancer look like? In most cases, melanomas look like moles. They also may begin as patches or spots of discolored skin.
A melanoma can be brown, pink, red or dark with blue or orange discolorations. Some form ulcers which make them appear redder. Amelanotic melanomas are without pigment.
Most aggressive melanomas are usually elevated. They begin as dark or brown skin nodules. These nodules penetrate deep skin layers very rapidly.
Melanomas do not stay in the same state for very long. They usually undergo evolution, changing more than one feature in the process. This is the main difference between them and normal moles.
What does melanoma look like on skin?
The ABCDE rule is commonly used to identify suspicious growths that may be having signs of malignancy. This is not an official diagnostic tool. Patients should seek medical attention to confirm diagnosis. All the same, the ABCDE rule is quite popular and fairly effective. In fact, even dermatologists use it. It stands for:
If you were to drop a line from the forehead along the nose bridge of a human face, you will realize that the two halves are almost identical to one another. The halves are said to be in symmetry with one another. Much the same happens with normal moles.
Melanomas lack this symmetrical property. There is no point at which the tumor can be divided in halves that are in symmetry with one another. In simpler terms, the tumor will be irregular.
Borders can also be referred to as edges in this case. These are areas along which discoloration has reached. Normal moles are round but some can be oval in shape.
Melanomas tend to be very irregular at the borders. Additionally, they keep spreading unevenly from the original spot.
Normal moles are consistently colored. Most of them are dark-brown but can also appear red.
Malignant ones often are multiple colored. The common give-away coloration for melanomas is bluish or whitish appearance embedded in dark, red or brown color. Some parts especially the middle may also be heavily pigmented compared to other regions. Darker patches may also be present randomly in the affected area.
Moles can sometimes grow large but normally are less than 5 mm. It is actually rare to have a mole reaching this size in diameter.
Melanomas begin as small tumors, less than 1 mm in thickness. With time they spread to reach 6 mm. This is almost the same size as a pencil eraser. It is very important that tumors not be allowed to grow this large. Chances are that such large melanomas have penetrated into the dermis, the first stage of metastasis.
Almost everyone has a mole somewhere on the skin. In fact, adults can have more than 20 moles. Most of them develop before adulthood. Moles rarely evolve. When they do, changes are so slight that they are barely noticeable.
All melanomas evolve with time. Some rapidly evolve while others can stay in the same state for some time. Evolution means that the tumor may change its size, color, shape and texture. Some may bleed and take forever to heal. This is common in stage II melanomas.
What does nodular melanoma look like?
Nodular melanoma is a very invasive form of melanoma. It can reach its deadliest stage in a few weeks or months.
The term nodular is derived from the disease’s tendency to form nodules on the skin. By the time the tumor raises concern, it usually has grown deep into the skin. While most melanomas are caught before they are 1 mm thick, nodular melanomas are often diagnosed when they have reached 2 mm in thickness. It is for this reason that this type of melanoma is so deadly.
Most nodular melanoma tumors are black or what can be described as heavily pigmented dark-brown. They are slightly elevated above the skin.
The neck and scalp are commonly affected although the cancer can develop anywhere on the skin such as melanoma on arm. Experts believe that the tendency to develop on neck and scalp has a lot to do with sun exposure. Many cases are reported in middle-aged and light skinned individuals.
What does superficial spreading melanoma look like?
Of all melanomas, the superficial spreading type is most common. It accounts for about 75% of all cases. This is higher than all other types combined.
These melanomas often start as moles with irregular borders and shape. Malignant cells first spread on the skin before penetrating deeper into the dermis and finally to lymphatic or blood system. Most people will have noted abnormal behavior before the tumors have reached invasive malignant melanoma stages.
In women, these melanomas often show up on legs. In men, they mostly develop on the trunk. Any skin region can be affected, however.
What does acral lentiginous melanoma look like?
Acral lentiginous melanoma invades melanocytes on hands, feet or under nails. It begins as a flat spot or patch of discolored skin. Initially, the patch spreads very slowly. It in fact can take months or years before spreading aggressively.
When it develops under nails, the big toe and thumb are most commonly affected. Streaks are first to appear, which then develop into full discoloration. Affected nails may break. See subungual melanoma pictures.
The main unique feature of this melanoma is that it has little or nothing to do with exposure to UV radiation. For this reason it is the most common melanoma in dark skinned individuals.
What does lentigo malignant melanoma look like?
This type shares several similarities with the superficial spreading type. It has a lot to do with exposure to sun. For this reason, it is a common cause of melanoma on nose or cheeks. People who spend a lot of time outdoors are more prone to it.
This type is considered the least invasive. It produces suspicious signs long before tumors have reached the dermis.
What does eye melanoma look like
The eye is the last place you expect to find a melanoma. As it happens, it too can be affected, but very rarely.
The eye contains melanocytes, the cells identified as where melanoma originates. They are located in the uveal tract. Unfortunately, you can’t see this tract when self-examining with a mirror. This is also one of the reasons why early uveal melanoma staging may not be precise without appropriate medical diagnostic tools. Symptoms of melanoma of the eye are not very noticeable. They may include:
- Interrupted vision
- Inability to see objects in the periphery
- Persistent dark spot on iris
- Changes in the appearance of the pupil
If you notice such symptoms, seek medical attention. Small ocular melanoma treatment is usually successful without risk of vision loss. Without treatment, melanoma in the brain can easily result. This is as long as it is done by a professional.
What does vulva melanoma look like?
The vulva is one of the most sensitive body areas. Many different types of skin growths can appear in this area. Due to its location, it may be hard to catch a melanoma in its early stages.
So what does vulva melanoma look like? Most are dark brown or black. They exhibit the characteristics we have examined above, depending on the type being dealt with. Melanomas on vulva may spread to the clitoris and vaginal lips before becoming invasive.
Treatment and prevention
Excisional surgery is the common removal method for melanomas. Radiotherapy is often used to kill any malignant tissues that may have survived the surgical removal. It is also a common amelanotic melanoma treatment option. If there are signs of metastasis, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are likely to be used for more advanced treatment.
Most varieties of melanoma are contributed to by exposure to UV radiation. Direct sun is the largest source of UV radiation. Prevention therefore revolves around measures such as keeping from excess sunbathing and applying sunscreens. Tanning beds are also common sources of artificial UV radiation. Their excess use should be avoided.
Take advantage of the ABCDE rule to check for early signs of melanoma. Any suspicious skin growths or patches should be reported to a doctor the soonest possible. The importance of this can be demonstrated with spitzoid melanoma prognosis.
There is a lot more to learn about melanoma and skin cancer. While the disease should only be treated in a hospital, it entirely is up to you to notice suspicious signs and report them to a dermatologist. Melanoma prognosis is very dependent on the stage it is in.
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