Are you worried about your skin health? Whether you have a mole you are concerned about or have seen family members deal with melanoma and are wondering about your own risk factors, you’re in the right place. At Vibrant Dermatology & Skinbar MD in Dedham, MA, we deal with a wide range of skin concerns and are here to help you decide if it’s time to schedule a skin exam.
What Are the First Signs of Melanoma?
Look Into Anything New
While checking yourself for signs of melanoma, one of the first things you should look for is any new moles or skin coloration. It can be difficult to tell on your own when a new mole or coloration is normal, especially since aging skin is known to go through some pigmentation changes.
This is one reason it is important to have regular exams so you can point out any concerns to your dermatologist.
Look for Changes or Anything Irregular
In addition to new growths, keep an eye on the moles you already have. If they begin to change, it could be a sign that something more serious is going on. If you find yourself feeling that your mole is looking different or a little strange, it may be time to have it looked at.
Know the Most Common Areas It Can Effect
Unfortunately, melanoma can happen almost anywhere on the body. It has even occurred in the eyes. This is one reason we are strong proponents of full-body skin exams since skin cancer doesn’t only target the areas that have been exposed to the sun.
With that in mind, there are areas of the body that are especially common to find this form of skin cancer. One place it is common to see this cancer develop is the lower back. There are other common locations to discover it, which can vary slightly between the sexes. For women, it’s common to find it on the legs. For men, it can be common to find it on the torso.
One of the most helpful tools when it comes to keeping an eye out for this form of skin cancer is what we call the “ABCDEs.”
“A” Represents Asymmetry
If you were to draw a line right through the mole in question, are the two sides asymmetrical? A benign or non-cancerous mole is generally symmetrical on either side. On the other hand, if you were to draw a line down the middle of your mole and the two halves don’t match, that could possibly indicate an issue.
“B” Represents the Border
Does it have an uneven border? Most benign moles have a border that is fairly even and defined all the way around. If the border of your mole is uneven, especially if it looks notched around the edges, it may be time to have it looked into.
“C” Represents Its Color
Does it have the same color, or are there multiple colors present? Benign moles usually come in a single shade of brown. Cancerous moles can sometimes be multiple shades of brown at once, or even have mixtures of red, blue, and black. If your mole isn’t uniform in color, it’s time to have it looked at.
“D” Can Be Either Dark or Diameter
While we are on the topic of color, a mole that is a darker color than the others is something to keep an eye out for. You should also be looking for growths that are lighter than your other moles, as some rarer forms of this cancer can cause growths that are light or colorless.
This form of skin cancer can come in multiple different sizes, but one common warning sign is if a mole is at or larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
“E” Is Considers Its Evolution
Is your mole starting to itch, grow, or change in shape? If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you are experiencing bleeding or scabbing around the area, this could be a warning sign.
In general, keep an eye out for anything that stands out from the crowd or is changing, and schedule a dermatologist appointment as soon as you notice any concerning symptoms. The earlier it is caught, the easier it is to treat.
What Are the Different Kinds?
This kind of skin cancer can come in several different forms, each one with slightly different symptoms associated with it.
When this skin cancer takes a nodular form, it involves a new growth that is quickly developing in size. It usually affects the upper body from the chest (or back) up to the head.
These growths are usually dome-like and red, but can also be black or lack pigment altogether. The surface can be smooth or bumpy, and it can produce itching or bleeding.
This form originates from the upper skin layers. Unlike the dome shape common in the nodular form, this form of cancer tends to spread horizontally at first, making it a flatter-looking growth.
It usually originates from a pre-existing mole. Eventually, in a process that could take months or even years, it may begin to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, where it develops in severity.
Lentigo Maligna Melanoma
This form is most commonly seen in older individuals. This kind of skin cancer is more likely to pop up in areas that have been consistently exposed to the sun. It develops from lentigo maligna, its precancerous form. In the early stages, it often has a uniform border. This border begins to blur and spread as the growth becomes active.
What Are the Additional Risk Factors?
Anyone can develop skin cancer regardless of skin tone or age. It’s important to always be aware of the common symptoms so you can be looking out for your health, but there are some factors that can put someone at a higher risk when it comes to developing this form of skin cancer.
If you have a family history of skin cancer, especially if a parent or sibling has developed it, you may be considered at a higher risk of developing it yourself. Be vigilant in protecting your skin, and keep an eye out for any warning signs.
Lengthy Sun Exposure
When you think of sun exposure, it may bring to mind an image of someone laying out on the beach, toasting themselves in the summer sun. While the summer is a notorious time for sunburns and sun exposure, the truth is that lengthy sun exposure can increase the risk of developing skin cancer year-round.
Spending time outside is very important for your health, but there are steps you can take to make sun exposure less of a risk. Using a daily sunscreen is one of them. During the time of day when the sun is at its strongest, it’s a good idea to cover up or stay in the shade. There are even some kinds of clothing that can offer a level of sun protection.
Sunburns That Peel Can Be an Issue
A common issue related to summer activities is sunburn. Some people are excited when they get their first sunburn of the year since they see it as a way to start tanning. Sunburns that peel are of particular concern, but any sunburn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Sunburns are a sign that the genetic material of your skin may have been damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. While this damage can eventually lead to skin cancer developing where you have been sunburned, it can also lead to skin cancer developing anywhere on your skin. Protecting your skin can help you enjoy outdoor activities safely, without putting yourself at more of a risk for skin damage.
Tanning Beds Count, Too
Rather than being a safe tanning alternative, tanning beds can be a significant risk factor when it comes to developing this form of skin cancer. Tanning is a sign that the body is developing melanin as a way to protect itself from accumulative damage. Whether you get it from the sun or from a salon, there is no such thing as a safe tan.
The lighter your skin, the less natural protection it has from sun damage. That said, since skin cancer is a risk for everyone, we recommend that everyone take steps to protect their skin from damage. People with darker skin tones may be more likely to develop this form of skin cancer under their nails, and on their hands or feet.
Having Irregularly Shaped Moles, or Over 50 Moles
Both having moles that are irregular in shape and having over 50 moles can put you at a higher risk of eventually developing skin cancer. Knowing your body and keeping an eye on it is one way you can protect yourself. Regularly check yourself in the mirror for changes, keeping in mind that this form of cancer can show up in unexpected areas.
1. What Are My Treatment Options?
When caught early, surgical excision is considered a very effective treatment. The cancerous skin will be removed, as well as some healthy skin around the site to make sure that no abnormal cells are left behind. A biopsy will be sent for testing. If you have already had skin cancer, it is commonly recommended that you come for check-ups more frequently so your skin health can be monitored.
In more advanced stages, additional testing will be required. We will check if the cancer has spread, and if so, to what extent it has spread. Depending on the rate of spread, immunotherapy, radiation, and chemotherapy may be necessary.
2. What Age Group Is Most at Risk?
The risk of developing this form of skin cancer does increase with age, but it is not at all uncommon to have patients under 30 years old who already have symptoms. In general, the average age of diagnosis for this form of skin cancer is right around 65 years old.
3. How Can I Protect Myself?
Practicing safe sun exposure can look like avoiding long and unprotected periods in the sun, staying inside when the sun is at it’s strongest, or wearing sunscreen and hats. The best way you can protect yourself is by having yearly skin exams. By catching symptoms while they’re still early, it will help your treatment be simpler and easier.
Don’t Wait When It Comes to Your Health
If you have any concerns about your skin health, it is crucial you seek professional advice immediately. When caught early, this form of skin cancer can be treated. However, if it is left for too long it could prove deadly. Don’t put your health at risk by waiting. Support the health of your body by reaching out to Vibrant Dermatology & Skinbar MD of Dedham, MA, today for your consultation.