The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While melanoma is not the most common of the three, it is considered to be the most dangerous. The Alaska Center for Dermatology team is here to support you through the entire process: from your diagnosis, during treatment and removal, and throughout post-procedure care and follow-up. We recognize that dealing with melanoma and skin cancer can be overwhelming, and we’re with you every step of the way.
What is Melanoma?
Melanomas occur when the pigment-producing cells that give your skin its color (melanocytes) become cancerous. The melanocytes mutate and begin to divide uncontrollably. Risk factors for melanoma include overexposure to UV radiation (from the sun and tanning beds), having fair skin, and a family history of melanoma, among others.
Facts About Melanoma
Here are some facts to help you learn more about melanoma:
- The National Cancer Institute estimated around 100,350 new melanoma cases in the U.S. in 2020. (seer.cancer.gov)
- Invasive melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. That’s why early detection and treatment are critical for your health. (cancer.org/cancer/melanoma)
- Melanoma can affect all skin types and ethnicities but is most commonly diagnosed in Caucasians, with an annual incidence rate of 26 in 100,000, compared to 4 in 100,000 in Hispanics and 1 in 100,000 in African-Americans. (melanomafoundation.org)
- Before age 50, women tend to be diagnosed with melanoma more than men. However, men are diagnosed twice as often as women by age 65, and three times more by age 80.
- The American Cancer Society reports that the incidence of melanoma has risen rapidly over the past 30 years, with the increase mostly in men and women ages 50 and older.
At Alaska Center for Dermatology, we remind our patients to be cautious with sun exposure, pay attention to their skin, and schedule annual checkups. Early detection and treatment of skin cancers lead to the best prognosis, and an annual skin exam with one of our Providers is a great way to help catch any concerns early on.
To check your skin for melanoma, look for (and keep an eye on) any lumps, bumps, or moles that you notice. Melanomas can develop from a normal area of skin (skin with no moles or prior abnormal coloration) or from an existing mole or freckle. Since moles and melanomas can be similar in appearance, the ABCDEs of melanoma detection may help you distinguish between spots that are normal and those that are atypical.
Signs of Melanoma: The ABCDEs of Detection
- Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half.
- Border: An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
- Color: Shades of tan, brown, or black, or sometimes white, red, or blue, that vary from one area to another.
- Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser), they can be smaller.
- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest, or is changing in size, shape, or color. A mole that is suddenly itchy, inflamed, bleeding, or scabby should also be examined.
The ABCDE rules do not apply to all melanomas. Some melanomas are perfectly symmetrical and have a light color. So, in addition to the ABCDEs, you should also use the following information to help screen for other suspicious lesions:
- Elevated: Look for a new spot that is raised above the skin’s surface.
- Firm: Look for spots that are firm to the touch, not flabby.
- Growing: Look for spots that are fast-growing or continue to grow for more than two to three weeks.
- “Ugly Duckling Rule”: This rule is based on the fact that an individual’s moles will tend to look alike. If there is a mole that doesn’t match the others (i.e., the ugly duckling), that mole should be examined.
One last tip on signs of melanoma:
If you have a “bruise” on the palm of your hand or the sole of your foot that does not heal, or if you have an unusual pigment around your nail, these may also be signs of melanoma, so book an appointment with your Dermatologist today to get it evaluated.Altogether, the best way to detect melanomas and skin cancer early is to be aware of any new or changing skin growths on your skin, particularly those that look unusual. Any new lesions, or a progressive change in a lesion’s appearance (size, shape, or color, etc.), should be evaluated promptly by a Dermatologist.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, many of the millions of skin cancer cases diagnosed each year can be prevented by protecting skin from excessive sun exposure and not using indoor tanning devices. Other ways to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure include spending time in the shade when outdoors, wearing sunscreen every day that has an SPF of 30 or higher, not getting sunburned, avoiding tanning beds, and seeing a dermatologist regularly for a skin exam.
Book an appointment today for your annual skin exam.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Major risk factors for melanoma include a personal or family history of the disease and the presence of atypical, large, or numerous (more than 50) moles on the body. A patient’s risk increases if they are sun-sensitive, have naturally blond or red hair, or have a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns or skin cancer. Risk also increases for patients who are sun-sensitive, which means they sunburn easily or have natural blond or red hair, and those with a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns, or skin cancer.
The primary treatment for melanoma is excision, or surgical removal, of the primary melanoma on the skin. The thickness of the melanoma determines the scope of the surgery needed, and since most melanomas are found when they are less than 1.0 mm thick, outpatient surgery is often the only treatment needed. While melanomas can be very dangerous, medical advancements in detection and treatment are making a positive impact on outcomes. The latest data from the American Cancer Society shows a 93% overall survival rate (relative five-year survival rate), and a 99% survival rate when the cancer is localized.Alaska Center for Dermatology offers melanoma treatments at its Anchorage, AK location. Book your appointment with one of our Medical Providers today.