What is Melanoma?
Types of Melanoma
Mucosal melanomas are rare, making up only about 1 percent of all diagnosed melanoma cases. This disease occurs in mucosal tissue, which lines body cavities and hollow organs. The most common sites for mucosal melanoma are the head and neck region (including the nasal cavity, mouth, and esophagus), as well as the rectum, urinary tract, and vagina.
Because the eyes contain melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, they can be susceptible to melanoma. There are two types: uveal and conjunctival:
Stages of Melanoma
Stage 0 (Melanoma in situ)
- Does not reach below the surface of the skin.
- Stage IA melanoma is less than one millimeter thick and has not ulcerated. It is most likely present only in the top layer of the skin.
- Stage IB melanoma also may be less than one millimeter thick but has ulcerated (become an open sore) and may have grown into deeper layers of the skin.
- Stage IIA melanoma is either one to two millimeters thick with ulceration or two to four millimeters thick with no ulceration.
- Stage IIB melanoma is either two to four millimeters thick with ulceration or more than four millimeters thick without ulceration.
- Stage IIC melanoma is more than four millimeters thick with ulceration.
- Stage III melanoma has spread to the lymph system or directly into the lymph nodes near the cancer, and may also have spread directly from the original tumor to areas more than four centimeters away (but not to farther lymph nodes).
- Stage IV melanoma has metastasized to more distant lymph nodes and/or to other organs.
Symptoms of Melanoma
If you have melanoma, you may notice changes to moles. These changes may be a thickening, scaling, itching, redness surrounding the mole, or bleeding. The American Cancer Society has adopted the "A B C D E" warning signs to watch for:
Risk Factors of Melanoma
The incidence, or annual risk of developing this form of cancer, in the United States has been increasing each year. It is believed that the number one cause of melanoma and other skin cancers is exposure to sunlight or tanning bed UV lights. It is for that reason that the most common locations of this cancer are the exposed parts of the skin, particularly the face and neck. If you have a history of severe sunburns, you might be at an increased risk of getting melanoma.
People with fair complexions have a higher risk of getting melanoma because they often are prone to sunburns.
If you have had melanoma, the risk of developing a second melanoma is 3 to 7 percent.
People who have benign and atypical moles might be at an increased risk of developing melanoma because they might indicate a family predisposition to getting skin cancer. Currently, there are at least three distinct genes that play a role in contributing to hereditary melanoma.
Reducing Your Risk:
Minimizing your exposure to the sun and avoiding UV tanning lights can significantly reduce your risk of developing melanoma. The following are some other ways to reduce your risk:
- Use sunscreen. Choose an SPF 15 or higher and apply it liberally 30 minutes before going outside. Remember to reapply according to product directions.
- Stay in the shade. In addition to wearing sunscreen, stay in the shade. Try to stay out of the sun when it is strongest, between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Cover up. Wear a shirt or other cover-up to protect your skin from the sun. An average t-shirt has an SPF factor of only 8. Clothing with a high SPF factor is becoming more popular.
- Wear a hat. Pick one with a large brim to protect the ears and neck. Again, there are companies that specifically make hats with a high SPF.
- Wear sunglasses. This will minimize your risk of ocular cancer.
- Protect your children. Babies under six months of age should be completely shielded from direct sun exposure; they cannot wear sunscreen. Apply sunscreen to infants over six months of age and teach older children to make applying sunscreen a regular habit before they go out to play.
At home, look for changes in existing moles as well as new growths. Here are some questions to ask yourself while doing a self-exam:
- Are both sides of the lesion different?
- Are the edges notched as opposed to smooth?
- Is the lesion a mixture of black, blue, red, and white?
- Is the diameter greater than six millimeters? (Most melanomas are larger than the head of a pencil.)
- Is the lesion growing in width or height?
- Has the sensation around a mole or spot changed?
- Is there a sore that does not heal?