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MOLES AND MELANOMA

MOLES AND MELANOMA

The appearance of a new mole or apparent changes in an existing mole can be a sign of a serious skin cancer called melanoma.

WHAT IS MELANOMA?

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that if left untreated can spread into surrounding tissues and organs of the body. Fortunately, melanoma is relatively rare and can be successfully cured, if it’s identified early enough. So what do you need to know to help prevent it?

THE CAUSES

Melanoma develops in the melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment called melanin. Fault in the genes that control how cells grow and divide is responsible for developing abnormal cancer cells, but the exact cause of melanoma is not known. No one is entirely free from the risk of getting melanoma.

INCREASED RISK GROUP

The chance of developing melanoma increases with age. Nevertheless, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in younger people, between 15 and 35 years of age. Melanoma death rates have not declined over the years.

  • People who have many moles, irregular moles or large moles
  • Pale and fair skinned people with blond or red hair
  • People who don’t tan and burn easily
  • People with a personal or family history of melanoma
  • People with reduced immunity

PREVENTION

It is important to get into the routine of having professional skin checks and perform regular self-checks. The most important way to lower your risk of melanoma is to protect yourself from exposure to UV rays by doing the following:

  • Practice sun safety when you are outdoors
  • Limit your time in intense sunlight
  • Seek shade when the sun is high in the sky
  • Wear protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against different types of UV rays with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30+

WARNING SIGNS

Almost everyone has moles and most moles are harmless, but a change in the way a mole looks is a sign that you should see a dermatologist. Here’s the simple ABCD mole assessment rule:

  • A is for Asymmetry one half of the spot does not match the other half
  • B is for Border – normal moles are round or oval in shape and have sharply defined borders while the borders of a melanoma may be uneven or blurred
  • C is for Colour – common moles are usually one colour throughout while melanomas may have several colours or an irregular pattern of colours
  • D is for Diameter – common moles are generally less than 7mm in diameter (like a pencil eraser) while melanomas are often larger, but they can also be smaller than this.

Other warning signs of melanoma include:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • The spread of pigment from the border into nearby skin
  • A change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • A change in the surface of a mole – oozing, bleeding or a new bump or nodule
  • A mole that stands out or looks really different from your other moles
  • A brown or black streak or spot underneath a nail

DIAGNOSIS

If our consultant dermatologists suspect that a change in your skin may be melanoma, a sample of the area is removed. This procedure is called a biopsy. It can usually be done in the clinic. The sample is then sent to a pathology lab to determine if it contains cancer cells.

TREATMENT

Surgery is the best way to treat early melanomas. More advanced melanomas may need other kinds of treatment. Again, the best defense against melanoma is finding it and removing it early.

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