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What is Melanoma Skin Cancer by Carissa Hoffman

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Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that originates in cells that are found in the skin called melanocytes.  These melanocytes give the pigment or color to people’s skin.  This is one of the three kinds of skin cancer and the most life-threatening.  Not only can this type of cancer be very aggressive but it also progresses very rapidly.  Melanoma undetected can spread to many other parts of the body such as the bones, brain, lungs, and liver.  Now let’s talk about how you find Melanoma and where you would find it.

Melanoma can appear in many ways such as a mole or even a birthmark.  Before we go any further let’s classify exactly what a mole is.  There are two ways we can classify a mole, we can classify them as a common mole or as dysplastic nevi.  A common mole is a small growth on the skin that is usually pink, tan, or even brown.  It has a very distinct edge and it is symmetrical.   It is normal to have thirty or forty common moles.  Typically if someone has more than fifty common moles they have a higher chance of developing Melanoma.  Most common moles do not turn into melanoma.  The second type of mole is dysplastic nevi.  This mole is unusual in shape and is often large and flat.  The border is irregular and the color is uneven (multiple colors in the mole area).  These are the kind of moles that would more than likely form into Melanoma.  Most dysplastic nevus commonly first appears on the extremities, chest, or back.  Typically these moles in men are found at the head, neck, or back and for women they are found on the back of the lower legs.

When trying to decide if a mole is to be of concern or not there is one simple rule you can follow called the “ABCDE” Rule.  The “A’ in this rule stands for asymmetry.  This means that the shape of one half of the mole does not match the other half.  The “B” stands for border.  This is referring to a border that is irregular where the edges are jagged or where the pigment may spread to the surrounding skin.  Also, you may notice that the mole is notched or has a blurred outline.  The “C” refers to the color of the mole.  You may notice that the color is uneven.  You may see some black, brown, or even tan.   Some other colors that could be present are areas of white, pink, gray, red, or blue.  The “D” stands for diameter.  Sometimes with moles, there is a change in size which usually is an increase.  Some melanomas can be really small but the majority of the melanomas are in a range from five to six millimeters wide (one-fourth inch wide).  The last letter is “E”.  This stands for evolving meaning has the mole changed over the last few weeks or months.  With melanomas, you may see all of these cases but sometime you will only have a few characteristics in your moles.

There are many different and surprising causes of Melanoma.  One of the major causes of melanoma is UV radiation from artificial sources like sunlamps and tanning booths.  The risk of skin cancer highly increases by using sunlamps and tanning booths before the age of thirty.  Another cause is simply family history.  People who have two or more close relatives such as a mother, father, sister, brother, or child with melanoma have an increased chance of melanoma.   Thirdly, people who simply have fair skin.  Those with darker skin are much less likely than people with fair skin to develop melanoma.  This is due to fair-skinned people being able to burn more easily from UV radiation.   Lastly, certain kinds of medicines can cause melanoma.  Medicines (hormones, antibiotics, and antidepressants) that make your skin more sensitive to the sun or that suppress the immune system increase the chances of this cancer.

Not only is this form of skin cancer serious but it can kill millions.  Melanoma can be cured if detected early enough.  You should always look at your body and check for odd and new appearances.  New second guess something that looks odd or weird shaped, for it could save your life.



-National Cancer Institute


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