Melanoma and skin cancer

In general, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and accounts for nearly half of all cancer cases in the U.S. There are two main classes of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases, yet it causes 80% of skin cancer-related deaths. The rate of melanoma has been rising for the last few decades, and it is 20 times more common in whites (lifetime risk of getting melanoma is 1 in 50 for whites). Melanoma is not uncommon among those younger than 30. Dr. Parvin Shafa is proficient and experienced in helping patients with early detection and treatment of melanoma and other skin cancers. Visit our office to meet our dermatologists in Irvine, Orange County to learn more.

What is a melanoma?

A melanoma occurs when the DNA of melanocytes (the cells that give your skin color) are damaged. This damage is usually a result of sun exposure and UV radiation. Once these cells become cancerous, they multiply rapidly, forming malignant tumors starting in the skin.

Early detection defines melanoma survival

Early detection of melanoma requires patients to be alert for any change – in size, shape, color, elevation, bleeding, itching, crusting or any other trait – in an existing mole or the appearance of a new spot which might be an early sign of a melanoma. When melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable. If diagnosis and treatment is delayed, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.

Incidence of melanoma is significantly rising!!

From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800% among young women and 400%among young men. One person dies of melanoma every hour.

What is the survival rate of melanoma?

The overall 5-year survival rate for patients in US is:

  • 98% if melanoma is detected early and it is limited to the skin
  • 62% if melanoma reaches the lymph nodes
  • 15% if melanoma metastasizes to distant organs

Who is at high risk for melanoma?

  • Patients with a history of melanoma are about nine times as likely as the general population to develop a new melanoma.
  • The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet radiation.
  • One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.

What does melanoma look like?

Melanoma is a weird looking skin lesion. It can start as a new mole or evolve from an existing mole. Anything on the skin that grows or changes, as well as any non-healing lesion, must be evaluated to rule out early skin cancer.

The “ABCDE rule” is an easy guide for remembering the typical signs of melanoma. Consult Dr. Shafa immediately if any of your moles or pigmented spots is showing any Asymmetry with Border irregularity, Color variability, Diameter over ¼” or/and Evolving.

A for ASYMMETRY: Most early melanomas are Asymmetrical: a line through the middle would not create matching halves. Common moles are round and symmetrical.

B for BORDERs: The borders of early melanomas are often uneven, irregular, and blurred, and they may be scalloped or have notched edges. Common moles have smoother and more even borders.

C for COLOR: Common moles usually are a single shade of brown. Varied shades of brown, tan, or black can be the first sign of melanoma, and may progress to be red, white, blue and purple.

D for DIAMETER: Early melanomas usually grow larger than common moles – generally to at least the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm or ¼” in diameter).

E for EVOLVING: When a mole is Evolving (changing) or you notice onset of irritation, itching, bleeding, formation of ulcers We also like to tell our patients to use their own best judgement for two additional factors:

F for “FUNNY LOOKING MOLE”: If your mole just looks “Funny” to you

G for “Gut feeling”: your says something is wrong Some melanomas do not fit the ABCDE rule described above, so it is particularly important for you to notice changes in skin markings or new spots on your skin.

When is a doctor visit and a biopsy warranted?

Any few changes out of ABCDEFG in your mole or new skin lesion described above might be an early sign of melanoma. Such a suspicious lesion indicates an evaluation with a dermoscope and possibly a biopsy to rule out melanoma. Other warning signs that may require a doctor visit are:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • A new growth
  • The spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border
  • Change in sensation—itchiness, tenderness, or pain

The take home message about Melanoma

  • Melanoma is the third most common, deadliest, and most serious form of skin cancer.
  • Only 4 to 5% of all skin cancers are diagnosed as melanoma, but 80% of skin cancer-related deaths are due to melanoma.
  • Melanoma can develop on normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous.
  • Melanoma can develop from sun exposure or unprotected skin.
  • The exact cause of melanoma is not known, but multiple risk factors play a role.
  • Just like all other skin cancers, exposure to UV light from sunlight or tanning booths increases the risk of melanoma.
  • Genetics also contribute as a known risk factor.
  • Change in the surface of a mole—scaling, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule.

See Dr. Parvin Shafa if you notice any of the above changes in your mole or a new skin lesion. Ask questions or give us a Call us and make an appointment today

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