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.

Skin Cancer, early detection of melanoma saves lives

Skin cancer, in general, is the most common of all cancers. It accounts for nearly half of all cases of cancer in the United States. There are two main classes of skin cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases but it causes 80% of skin cancer related death. 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 our dermatologist, is proficient and experienced in helping patients with early detection and treatment of melanoma and other skin cancers. Visit her office in Irvine, Orange County to learn more.

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 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. From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men. One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 57 minutes). The overall 5-year survival rate for patients, whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has spread to regional lymph nodes or other organs, is about 98 percent in the US. The survival rate falls to 62 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 15 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

Who is at high risk for Melanoma?

Melanoma is a weird looking skin lesion. It can be started as a new finding or evolution in an existing mole. The key is anything on the skin that is growing, changing or any non-healing lesion must be evaluated to rule out an early skin cancer.

The ABCDE rule” is an easy guide to remembering the usual 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, blurred and may be scalloped or have notched edges. Common moles have smoother (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 the colors red, white, and blue.

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 an additional two factors:

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

G for your “Gut feeling” 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 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.

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

“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 in sun exposed or sun protected skin.
  • The exact cause of melanoma is not known, however 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 question.