When To See A Doctor
Many melanomas are dark brown or black and are often described as changing, different, unusual, or ugly looking. However, any skin abnormality that is growing or changing quickly and does not go away, whether colored or not, should be examined by a doctor. Bleeding may be a sign of more advanced melanoma. In addition, the appearance of a new and unusual mole is more likely to be melanoma.
If you are concerned about a new or existing mole, please talk with your family doctor or a dermatologist. Your doctor will ask how long and how often youve been experiencing the symptom, in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.
The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.
Melanoma: The Deadliest Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, because it tends to spread if its not treated early.
This cancer starts in the melanocytes cells in the epidermis that make pigment.
About 100,350 new melanomas are diagnosed each year.
Risk factors for melanoma include:
- Having fair skin, light eyes, freckles, or red or blond hair
- Having a history of blistering sunburns
- Being exposed to sunlight or tanning beds
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation
- Having a family history of melanoma
- Having many moles or unusual-looking moles
- Having a weakened immune system
Melanoma can develop within a mole that you already have, or it can pop up as a new dark spot on your skin.
This cancer can form anywhere on your body, but it most often affects areas that have had sun exposure, such as the back, legs, arms, and face. Melanomas can also develop on the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, or fingernail beds.
Signs to watch out for include:
- A mole that changes in color, size, or how it feels
- A mole that bleeds
Where Do Skin Cancers Start
Most skin cancers start in the top layer of skin, called the epidermis. There are 3 main types of cells in this layer:
- Squamous cells: These are flat cells in the upper part of the epidermis, which are constantly shed as new ones form. When these cells grow out of control, they can develop into squamous cell skin cancer .
- Basal cells: These cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. These cells constantly divide to form new cells to replace the squamous cells that wear off the skins surface. As these cells move up in the epidermis, they get flatter, eventually becoming squamous cells. Skin cancers that start in the basal cell layer are called basal cell skin cancers or basal cell carcinomas.
- Melanocytes: These cells make the brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown color. Melanin acts as the bodys natural sunscreen, protecting the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. Melanoma skin cancer starts in these cells.
The epidermis is separated from the deeper layers of skin by the basement membrane. When a skin cancer becomes more advanced, it generally grows through this barrier and into the deeper layers.
Check Every Part Of Your Feet For Signs Of Melanoma
Pay close attention to places on your feet that have been injured. Even if the injury was years ago, examine the area carefully.
Research has shown that a foot injury may increase your risk of developing melanoma. Bob Marley, a legendary reggae artist, developed melanoma on his foot. Its believed that the melanoma began where he had injured his foot while playing soccer. He later died of melanoma.
What Is Skin Cancer
Cancer can start any place in the body. Skin cancer starts when cells in the skin grow out of control.
Skin cancer cells can sometimes spread to other parts of the body, but this is not common. When cancer cells do this, its called metastasis. To doctors, the cancer cells in the new place look just like the ones from the skin.
Cancer is always named based on the place where it starts. So if skin cancer spreads to another part of the body, its still called skin cancer.
Ask your doctor to use this picture to show you where your cancer is
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What You Need To Know About Early Detection
Finding melanoma at an early stage is crucial; early detection can vastly increase your chances for cure.
Look for anything new,changing or unusual on both sun-exposed and sun-protected areas of the body. Melanomas commonly appear on the legs of women, and the number one place they develop on men is the trunk. Keep in mind, though, that melanomas can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesnt shine.
Early detection makes a difference
99%5-year survival rate for patients in the U.S. whose melanoma is detected early. The survival rate drops to 66% if the disease reaches the lymph nodes and27% if it spreads to distant organs.
Symptoms Of Mucosal Melanoma
Unlike cutaneous melanomas, mucosal melanomas are hard to diagnose because they are hidden inside your body. The typical skin exams that help locate cancer lesions on visible skin aren’t practical for the skin you can’t see.
There are symptoms of mucosal melanoma. They vary depending on the location of the cancer.
Head and neck. Almost half of mucosal melanoma cases are in the mouth, nose, or throat. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, unexplained nosebleeds, and a lump in the neck, jaw, or mouth. You may have mouth pain or difficulty talking. You may be able to see lesions inside your mouth.â
Anus. Melanoma of the anus may cause bleeding from the anus. You may feel a growth or something protruding from your anus. You may also experience constipation, pain, or discomfort.â
Vagina and vulva. Melanoma of the vagina or vulva can lead to unexplained vaginal bleeding. You may be able to feel a mass inside your vagina. You could have visible lesions on your vulva. You might experience pain or discomfort.
Rarer Types Of Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Merkel cell cancer make up the vast majority of all skin cancer cases. However, there are several other rare types of skin cancer:
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can affect the skin, blood, lymph nodes, and internal organs, and presents as a dry, itchy red rash
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans causes a tumor in the deep layers of the skin and starts out as a patch of firm skin that raises over time. The tumors have a high rate of recurring or returning once treated;
- Kaposi sarcoma is a rare cancer caused by an infection with human herpesvirus-8 . It causes abnormal tissue growth under the skin, and looks like red and purple lesions. Those with a compromised immune system, such as people who are HIV-positive, are more at risk
- Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare, aggressive cancer that usually affects the skin on or around the eyelid. It presents as a small, round, painless tumor on the upper or lower eyelid
- Skin adnexal tumors are very rare tumors that grow in the sebaceous glands or hair follicles. They are often misdiagnosed as benign growth, and almost always require a pathologist to diagnose;
- Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous growths that can develop in the deep layers of skin, as well as the bodys fat, muscle, nerves and blood vessels;
How Serious Is My Cancer
If you have melanoma, the doctor will want to find out how far it has spread. This is called staging. Your doctor will want to find out the stage of your cancer to help decide what type of treatment is best for you.
The stage describes the growth or spread of the melanoma through the skin. It also tells if it has spread to other parts of your body.
Your cancer can be stage 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, like stage 4, means a more serious cancer that has spread beyond the skin. Be sure to ask the doctor about the cancer stage and what it means for you.
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Four Main Types Of Skin Melanoma
There are four main types of skin melanoma.
Sores That Dont Heal In Hidden Areas
Mucosal melanoma can appear as sores that dont heal in your mouth or nasal passages, or in other areas of the body that produce mucus, such as the vagina and anus. If you notice any of these melanoma symptoms in these areas that dont heal and cannot be explained by other causes, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
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How Do People Find Signs Of Melanoma On Their Own Skin
Performing a skin self-exam as often as recommended by your dermatologist is the best way. While examining your skin, you want to look for the following:
Mole that is changing in any way
Spot that looks different from the rest of the spots on your skin
Growth or spot on your skin that itches, bleeds, or is painful
Band of color beneath or around a nail
Sore that doesnt heal or heals and returns
The ABCDEs of melanoma can help you find changes to a mole, freckle, or other spot on your skin.
A Sore That Doesn’t Heal
Many skin cancers are first dismissed as being due to a bug bite, minor injury, or irritation, but become more obvious when they don’t go away over time. If you notice a sore on your skin that refuses to heal, even if it seems to be healing but then reappears, talk to your healthcare provider. In general, any skin change that hasn’t resolved on its own over a period of two weeks should be evaluated.;
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What Are The Signs Of Melanoma
Knowing how to spot melanoma is important because early melanomas are highly treatable. Melanoma can appear as moles, scaly patches, open sores or raised bumps.
Use the American Academy of Dermatologys ABCDE memory device to learn the warning signs that a spot on your skin may be melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half does not match the other half.
- Border: The edges are not smooth.
- Color: The color is mottled and uneven, with shades of brown, black, gray, red or white.
- Diameter: The spot is greater than the tip of a pencil eraser .
- Evolving: The spot is new or changing in size, shape or color.
Some melanomas dont fit the ABCDE rule, so tell your doctor about any sores that wont go away, unusual bumps or rashes or changes in your skin or in any existing moles.
Another tool to recognize melanoma is the ugly duckling sign. If one of your moles looks different from the others, its the ugly duckling and should be seen by a dermatologist.
Early Detection Starts With You
When caught and treated early, skin cancers are highly curable. And in the early stages of skin cancer development, youre the one with the best chance to see changes.
Thats why we recommend that you examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Its a simple but powerful way to look at yourself with a new focus that can save your life.
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How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
Your doctor or dermatologist will first conduct a physical examination by looking at your skin to identify any suspicious spots using a dermatoscope .
Its not always possible to tell from looking at it whether a spot or lump is cancerous or not. So your doctor or dermatologist may take a skin biopsy. This is where part of, or all of, your spot is removed and sent for further study under a microscope.
Some smartphone apps allow you to photograph your skin and compare photos over time. While they can be a good reminder to check your skin and record details, they shouldnt replace a visit to the doctor. See a doctor if youre concerned about any spots or moles on your skin.
The Warning Signs Of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers — including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — often start as changes to your skin. They can be new growths or precancerous lesions — changes that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. An estimated 40% to 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it’s found and treated early.
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What Is Skin Cancer And Melanoma
Skin cancer is a disease that occurs when your skin cells grow abnormally, usually from too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
This uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells forms a tumour in the skin. Tumours are either benign , or malignant .
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer: each year, more than 13,000 Australians are diagnosed with a melanoma and almost 980,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers are treated. Skin cancer is mostly preventable, and there are effective treatment options available.
Skin cancers are named according to the cells in which they form. There are 3 main types:
- Basal cell carcinoma begins in the lower segment of cells of the epidermis your outer layer of skin. These tend to grow slowly, and rarely spread to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell carcinoma grows from the flat cells found in the top layer of your epidermis. SCC can grow quickly on the skin over several weeks or months. Bowens disease is an early form of SCC that hasnt grown beyond the top layer of skin.
- Melanoma grows from cells called melanocytes cells that give your skin its colour. Melanoma is the rarest type of skin cancer but is considered the most serious because it can spread quickly throughout the body.
BCC and SCC are also called non-melanoma skin cancers. BCC represents more than 2 in 3 non-melanoma skin cancers, and around 1 in 3 are SCC. There are other types of non-melanoma skin cancers, but they are rare.
When Melanoma Can’t Be Cured
If your cancer has spread and it is not possible to cure it by surgery, your doctor may still recommend treatment. In this case, treatment may help to relieve symptoms, might make you feel better and may allow you to live longer.Whether or not you choose to have anti-cancer treatment, symptoms can still be controlled. For example, if you have pain, there are effective treatments for this.;General practitioners, specialists and palliative care teams in hospitals all play important roles in helping people with cancer.
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Are There Different Kinds Of Skin Cancer
There are many types of skin cancer. Your doctor can tell you more about the type of skin cancer you have.
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are much more common than melanoma and dont often spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is more deadly because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
When Should I Call My Doctor
You should have a skin examination by a doctor if you have any of the following:
- A personal history of skin cancer or atypical moles .
- A family history of skin cancer.
- A history of intense sun exposure as a young person and painful or blistering sunburns.
- New or numerous large moles.
- A mole that changes in size, color or shape.
- Any mole that itches, bleeds or is tender.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Receiving a diagnosis of melanoma can be scary. Watch your skin and moles for any changes and seeing your doctor regularly for skin examinations, especially if youre fair-skinned, will give you the best chances for catching melanoma early when its most treatable.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/21/2021.
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