Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that can be life-threatening if not detected early. According to the Melanoma Institute, an Australian is diagnosed with Melanoma every 30 minutes. That's why it's more important than ever to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms.
In this article, we'll explore the early signs and symptoms of melanoma. Whether you've been personally affected by melanoma or simply want to stay informed, we'll provide you with valuable information to help you protect your skin and stay healthy.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the pigment-producing cells, known as melanocytes, start to grow abnormally and form a tumour. Unlike other types of skin cancer, melanoma has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body and can be life-threatening if not detected early.
The primary cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. The UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells, causing them to grow abnormally and form a tumour.
Do genetics play a role in developing melanoma?
Genetics can also play a role in the development of melanoma. People with a family history of melanoma or certain gene mutations are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
The risk of developing melanoma increases with age, and people with fair skin, light-coloured eyes, and a history of sunburns are also at a higher risk. In saying that, anyone can develop melanoma, regardless of their skin colour or ethnicity.
By taking steps to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays and being aware of the warning signs and symptoms, you can reduce your risk of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer.
Common Symptoms and Signs of Melanoma
While the terms "symptoms" and "signs" are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between them.
Symptoms are subjective experiences that a person may feel, such as pain or itching, while signs are objective observations that a doctor can see or measure, such as a mole's size, shape, or colour.
For melanoma, both symptoms and signs are important to watch for. Some people may experience symptoms like itching, bleeding, or pain, while others may notice signs like changes in the appearance -- such as size, shape, or colour -- of a mole.
By being aware of both the symptoms and signs of melanoma, you can catch the disease early and seek medical attention before it progresses.
A new or existing mole that changes in size, shape, or colour
Changes in the size, shape, or colour of a mole can be a warning sign of melanoma. If you notice that an existing mole has changed in any way or if you develop a new mole that looks different from your other moles, it's important to have it checked by a doctor.
It's important to note that not all changes in moles are indicative of melanoma. Some moles may change over time due to normal growth or hormonal changes, and not all melanomas develop from existing moles. However, any change in a mole should be taken seriously and evaluated by a doctor.
Asymmetrical moles or moles with irregular or jagged edges
Asymmetrical moles or moles with irregular or jagged edges can also be a warning sign of melanoma. Unlike normal moles, which are typically round or oval and have smooth, even edges, melanomas may have uneven or irregular borders.
This is because the cells that make up the melanoma grow in an uncontrolled and disorganised manner, causing the mole to become asymmetrical. While not all asymmetrical moles are cancerous, it's always best to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention if you're concerned about a mole.
Moles that have different shades of brown, black, or other colours
Moles that have different shades of brown, black, or other colours can also be a warning sign of melanoma. Normal moles typically have a uniform colour and are one shade of brown or black. However, melanomas may have uneven colouration or may contain shades of red, blue, or white.
Melanomas that have different colours can indicate the presence of abnormal cells that are growing and dividing rapidly. If you notice a mole that has different shades of colour or that looks different from your other moles, it's important to have it checked by a doctor.
Moles that are larger than 6mm in diameter
Moles that are larger than 6mm in diameter can be a warning sign of melanoma. While not all melanomas are larger than 6mm, this is a common size for melanomas that have progressed to a later stage.
As melanomas grow and become more advanced, they can increase in size and become more difficult to treat. If you notice a mole that is larger than 6mm in diameter or that has increased in size rapidly, it's important to have it checked by a doctor.
Moles that itch, bleed, or become crusty or inflamed
Moles that are itching, bleeding, crusting, or showing signs of inflammation or ulceration are often warning signs of melanoma. While not all moles that itch or bleed are cancerous, these symptoms can indicate the presence of abnormal cells that are growing and dividing rapidly.
As melanomas progress, they may also start crusting or showing signs of inflammation, which can cause discomfort or pain. If you notice a mole that itches, bleeds, or becomes crusty or inflamed, it's important to have it checked out by a doctor.
It's also important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other skin conditions, so it's essential to have a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.
How to spot the early signs of melanoma
Knowing how to spot the early signs of melanoma is essential for catching the disease early and seeking proper medical attention and treatment. Here are some tips to help you spot the early signs of melanoma:
- Conduct regular self-checks: Check your skin regularly for any changes in moles or new growths.
- Monitor any changes in moles: Keep an eye on any moles that have changed in size, shape, or colour or that have started itching, bleeding, crusting, or showing signs of inflammation.
- Get an annual skin check: Consider getting an annual skin check, especially if you have a history of melanoma or other types of skin cancer in your family.
By being aware of these tips and regularly checking your skin for any changes, you can catch melanoma before it progresses and seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.
The ABCDE rule
The ABCDE rule is a helpful tool for identifying the early signs of melanoma. This rule can help you recognise changes in moles and other growths that could indicate the presence of melanoma.
Here's what each letter in the ABCDE rule stands for:
- A - ASYMMETRY: Look for moles that are asymmetrical, with one half different in shape or size from the other
- B - BORDER: Look for moles with irregular or jagged borders that are not smooth or even
- C - COLOUR: Look for moles that have uneven colouration or that contain different shades of brown, black, or even red, white, or blue
- D - DIAMETER: Look for moles that are larger than 6mm, the size of a typical pencil eraser, in diameter
- E - EVOLUTION: Look for moles that are changing in any way, such as growing in size or changing in shape or colour
(picture to use: https://www.oakleafsurgical.com/hv/2014_fa/graphics/skinchart.jpg)
What should I look for when doing a skin check?
When doing a skin check, there are several things you should look for to identify any changes or abnormalities on your skin. Melanoma can occur anywhere on your body, from your legs and hands to your face and scalp, so it's important to perform full-body checks.
Here are some examples of what to look for:
- Moles or other growths: Check for any new growths on your skin, as well as any existing moles that have changed in size, shape, or colour
- Discolouration or uneven pigmentation: Look for areas of your skin that have uneven colour or that have developed new pigmentation
- Texture changes: Check for any changes in the texture of your skin, such as rough or scaly patches
- Sores or lesions: Look for any sores or lesions that are not healing or that are growing in size
By checking your skin regularly and being aware of any changes or abnormalities, you can catch melanoma early and seek proper medical attention. If you notice any concerning changes in your skin, it's important to have them checked by a doctor.
Early detection and treatment are key to improving outcomes and reducing the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Are you at risk for melanoma?
Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that can affect anyone, regardless of age or skin type. In saying that, some people may be at a higher risk for developing melanoma than others. Here are some risk factors for melanoma:
- Exposure to UV radiation: Prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds can increase the risk of melanoma
- Fair skin: People with fair skin are at a higher risk of developing melanoma, as they have less melanin, which provides some protection against UV radiation
- Family history: If a close family member has had melanoma, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease
- Age: While melanoma can affect people of all ages, it's more common in older adults
- Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop melanoma
- Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems may be at a higher risk of developing melanoma
- History of sunburns: If you've had a history of severe sunburns, particularly in childhood or adolescence, you may be at a higher risk of developing melanoma
What are the next steps?: Getting a skin check to detect signs of melanoma
Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that can be life-threatening if left untreated. By being aware of the common symptoms and early signs of melanoma, you can catch the disease early and seek proper medical attention and treatment.
If you notice any concerning changes in your skin, such as new growths or changes in existing moles, it's important to have them checked by a doctor. By taking these steps and conducting regular self-checks, you can help protect your skin and reduce your risk of developing melanoma.
Visit the skin cancer Doctors at the nearest available clinic
The team at SunDoctors skin cancer clinics take great pride in educating the community about skin cancer and skin cancer prevention. SunDoctors is a leading provider of skin cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and education. With clinics operating in over 40 locations across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, SunDoctors patients are guaranteed a rapid diagnosis, pathology and treatment.
If you want more information or have any questions, want to learn more about melanoma checks and self-examinations, or you're looking to book a skin cancer check, free call 13 – 7546 (13 – skin) or book online at sundoctors.com.au.