Melanoma is the most lethal and arguably the most well-known form of skin cancer. Melanomas occur in the pigment-producing melanocytes of the upper layers of the skin. Causes can include overexposure to UV light such as chronic sun exposure of tanning bed use. Melanomas often resemble common moles but can quickly become cancerous. Certain people are genetically predisposed to developing melanoma, and some are at higher risk based on skin type and family history.
Melanoma that is identified and treated early can be cured, but unchecked skin cancer can be hard to treat and even deadly. The most noticeable signs of melanoma can be found in new, unusual, or atypical moles and lesions. This means that people with many moles or freckles all over their body are at higher risk, and that it is important to become familiar with your skin and your body to make it easier to recognize melanoma early.
The differences between common, benign moles and malignant melanomas can be difficult to distinguish. Benign moles appear symmetrical with a smooth, evenly defined outside border. They are usually evenly colored and don’t grow past about ¼” in diameter. Melanomas can appear asymmetrical, have a jagged border, and appear to be many different colors. Common moles usually do not exceed ¼” diameter, while untreated melanoma can quickly grow beyond this size.
Most importantly, benign moles generally will not change over time. If you notice a mole or spot on your skin that is rapidly changing in size, shape, color, or any other feature, it is imperative to seek advice from a physician or dermatologist.
If a melanoma becomes cancerous, analysis of other systems such as lymph tissue may be necessary to determine if the cancer has metastasized to other organs. Because melanomas can so closely resemble and can even develop from benign moles, it is important to become familiar with your skin in order to watch for any changing areas or signs of skin cancer. Be sure to see a dermatologist regularly and avoid chronic overexposure to UV light.