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Signs and Symptoms of Malignant Melanoma

written by: AngelicaMD • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/9/2011

Melanoma is the worst type of skin cancer that affects fair-skinned people. Changes in the skin, usually the areas often exposed to the sun, are usually the first to be noted in this type of cancer. Learn more about recognizing malignant melanoma symptoms for early diagnosis and treatment.

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    What is Malignant Melanoma?

    Malignant melanoma, or simply melanoma, is a type of skin cancer that afflicts mostly fair-skinned individuals who spend lots of time under the sun with skin unprotected from its harmful rays. These people usually live in places with sunny climates or high altitudes but others may also be affected, such those who undergo repeated tanning procedures, those who are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals like coal tar, and those who have lots of moles and birthmarks.

    Melanoma spreads rapidly and is the leading cause of death from skin disease. Aside from the skin which contains the affected cells producing melanin, melanoma can also be found in the mouth, the eyes and parts of the urinary and intestinal tracts.

    A combination of factors like sun exposure, genetic influence and environmental carcinogens may increase the risk for developing skin cancer. Generally, abnormal cell growth begins from damage to the DNA which is part of the genetic composition of cells. These abnormal growths destroy normal cells and may spread rapidly to distant organs like the lymph nodes, lungs, liver and brain leading to death.

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    Malignant Melanoma Symptoms

    Symptoms of malignant melanoma or skin cancer in general often start as changes in the appearance of skin moles, sores or lumps. They are often found in areas exposed to the sun like the back, arms, legs and face although hidden parts like the soles of the feet, hands and fingernail beds may also be affected. These changes may be subtle or sudden and may sometimes be taken for granted. These include changes in the size, shape, color and consistency of skin moles, although these can also occur in the skin itself without a mole. Other accompanying symptoms of skin cancer are bleeding, itchiness, scaling, spread of pigment to surrounding areas and oozing.

    Symptoms of melanoma may also be evaluated in terms of these signs as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology:

    A – Asymmetrical shape – a mole or area affected that does not have two identical or similar halves

    B – Borders are irregular – affected mole or area has scalloped or notched borders, instead of smooth

    C – Color of mole, sore or lump is uneven and appears as a mixture of brown, tan and black, sometimes with white and shades of blue and red

    D – Diameter of the affected area is more than six millimeters or a fourth of an inch

    E – Evolving changes – usually observed as changes in size and shape or accompanying symptoms like bleeding and itchiness

    Signs and symptoms of hidden melanomas are vague and can mimic other conditions. For example malignant melanoma of the eye can start as changes in vision while that found in the intestines can lead to anal bleeding.

    One must be cautious to observe these changes and seek immediate medical consultation especially if risk factors such as chronic sun exposure, advanced age and family history are present. Confirmation of diagnosis and evaluation for spread of malignant cells or metastasis are important in the management of skin cancer, since malignant melanoma involves a high risk of death.

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    References

    MedlinePlus, “Melanoma", http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000850.htm

    Mayo Clinic, “Melanoma", http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/melanoma/DS00439/DSECTION=symptoms