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Melanoma: the dangerous skin cancer Melanoma: the dangerous skin cancer
Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the pigment cells of our skin known as melanocytes. It is the deadliest form... Melanoma: the dangerous skin cancer

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the pigment cells of our skin known as melanocytes.  It is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  It is estimated that over 160,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed world wide every year and it is responsible for over 48,000 deaths world wide every year.

Melanoma is more common in women than in men, especially Caucasian and northern Europeans that live in the sunny climates.  In the US the highest incidence of melanoma are in Floridan and Texas.  Other risk factors include having fair skin, blue or green eyes, blonde, or red hair as well as having one or more blistering sunburns early in life, and most definitely the use of tanning beds or lamps.  There are also certain factors unrelated to UV exposure that can cause melanoma, family history, a close relative with a history of melanoma, frequent contact with certain chemicals like arsenic, creosote and coal tar, also those with impaired or weakened immune systems are at greater risk.

Damage done to the DNA inside cells is the cause of all forms of cancer.  The damage can be caused by inheriting some type of genetic mutation,however, the most common cause is environmental factors that cause DNA damage that builds up over time.  The leading cause of melanoma is damage that results from exposure to UV rays.

Though melanoma commonly begins as a mole that is not always the case, it can also develop in “normal-appearing” skin.  We all have moles, usually 10-40moles will have developed by the time we’re 40yrs and moles can change over time, however, generally normal moles are uniform in color with distinct borders and most are usually less than 1/4inch in diameter.  Because melanoma can start as a lump, sore or growth on the skin as well as a mole the American Academy of Dermatology developed a guide known as the A,B,C,D,E’s of melanoma to help you determine if there is a possible melanoma present.

A-is for asymmetrical shapes, moles are usually uniform in shape, so look for moles that aren’t uniform, half of the mole will look different than the other half.
B- is for borders , are the edges of a mole smooth and distinct or are the irregular and rough?
C- is for changes in color,  are the changes in color even or uneven, is there more than one color?
D- is for diameter, most moles are less than 1/4 inch in diameter, moles or growth larger than 1/4 inch are suspect.
E- is for evolving,  watch for moles that continue to change in appearance.

Currently there are four major types of melanoma:

1. Superficial spreading melanoma, the most common type of melanoma appears as a mole that is usually flat with an irregular shape and color.  It is most commonly found in Caucasians.
2.Nodular melanoma, starts as a raised area that is a dark black-blue or blueish-red color as opposed to a mole.
3. Lentigo maligna melanoma is most commonly diagnosed in the elderly and is usually found on sun damaged areas that are tan with brown areas.
4. Acral lentiginous melanoma the least common of the melanomas is usually found on the palms, soles or under the nails ans is most frequently diagnosed in African-Americans.

If you are a high risk candidate for melanoma you should have a yearly exam by a dermatologist and you should examine your skin once a month.  Early detection is the key to successful treatment, so performing a self exam regularly and reporting anything unusual to your Dr immediately is essential.  What makes melanoma so dangerous is that it spreads to other areas of the body that’s why early detection and treatment are so crucial.  Treatment usually depends on how advanced the melanoma is, however, surgical rempval of the melanoma is always the first step,  how much tissue is removed depends on the extent of the melanoma.  Follow up treatment with medication or radiation all depends on far the melanoma has spread.  These are all areas that your oncologist will discuss with you.

Remember prevention is always better than treating.  The best way to prevent melanoma or any other type of skin cancer is to avoid exposure to UV radiation, that includes tanning beds.  Use sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or higher and apply it according to the manufactures recommendations.  When outside, even if it’s cloudy you are still being exposed to UV rays so it’s important to take protective measures.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at