Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin and give our skin its color. Typically, melanoma cancer cells are brown or black but sometimes they can appear pink, tan or even white. Malignant melanoma is another name for melanoma but both mean the same thing: melanoma cells or tumors are all malignant. (1)
Two other common skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell cancer, which occur more often than melanoma but melanoma is far more dangerous so early detection and treatment is imperative. According to the Cleveland Clinic, of the one million cancers that will be diagnosed this year, “About 80% … will be basal cell carcinoma, 16% will be squamous cell carcinoma, and 4% will be melanoma.”
Symptoms of Melanoma:
The first skin lesions to check and monitor are moles. Moles may be flat or oval and typically are tan, brown or black. Most moles are harmless and remain small, about the size of a pencil eraser. The key is to watch for changes in color and size indicating the development of malignant melanoma.
Other skin lesions that may indicate a risk of melanoma are new ones that appear on the skin or ones that change in appearance, which your doctor should check.
The common rule for checking suspicious skin spots is ABCD:
A is for asymmetry where one side of a mole or lesion appears different than the other.
B is for a change in the border so that it appears ragged or blurred.
C is for color that changes or is not uniform all over
D is for diameter that appears larger than one fourth of an inch.
There are a number of subtypes of melanoma. The two most common are superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) and nodular melanoma. About 70 percent of melanoma cases are SSM and it is the most common type of cutaneous melanoma occurring in light-skinned people. It starts as a deeply pigmented macule or plaque that develops into a cancerous lesion. Nodular melanoma occurs in 15 percent of all melanomas and starts as a uniform nodule. “Rapid growth is also a hallmark of nodular melanoma” (4)
Staging for melanoma is the process of determining how widespread the cancer has become.