Amelanotic melanoma is a type of skin cancer that doesn’t produce any changes in your melanin. Melanin is a pigment that gives your skin its color.
A change in your melanin color can often indicate that melanoma is developing in your skin. With amelanotic melanoma, there isn’t always a noticeable color change in the area where the melanoma is forming. The area where it develops may be a faint reddish or pinkish color. The area may not even have any color in it at all. Some types of amelanotic melanoma can blend in seamlessly with the rest of your skin.
It’s easy to miss this type of melanoma because of its lack of color. Knowing how to identify amelanotic melanoma can help prevent the melanoma from developing any further.
Amelanotic melanoma is most recognizable by its reddish, pinkish, or nearly colorless look. You may see a patch of abnormal skin but not the usual dark brown or black color that usually indicates melanoma.
One of the most obvious symptoms of amelanotic melanoma (and other types of melanoma) is its sudden appearance on your body where it wasn’t before. Areas of melanoma also grow over time and may also change shape drastically.
In general, remember the letters ABCDE while you look for moles or abnormal growths on your skin to see if they could be a melanoma. This test is more effective for melanoma that’s colored or easier to see, but several of these criteria can help you identify amelanotic melanoma, too.
- Asymmetrical shape: Moles that indicate melanoma usually have two halves that aren’t the same size, shape, or pattern.
- Border: Moles that indicate melanoma usually don’t have a distinct border between the area of the mole and the skin surrounding it.
- Changes in color: Moles that indicate melanoma usually change color over time. Harmless moles are often one solid color, such as dark brown.
- Diameter: Moles that indicate melanoma are usually about a quarter of an inch (6 millimeters) in size and grow over time.
- Evolving: Moles that indicate melanoma tend to change size, shape, and color over time.
When a mole is suspicious, you should seek help from your doctors. They may refer you to a dermatologist, who is a skin specialist. The dermatologist may perform a biopsy of the mole to confirm or rule out the presence of melanoma.
Causes and risk factors
Melanoma happens when the DNA in your skin cells becomes damaged. When skin DNA is damaged, skin cells can grow out of control and become cancerous. Doctors aren’t certain how damaged skin cell DNA turns into melanoma. A combination of factors inside and outside of your body is likely.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun for long periods of time can damage your skin cells. This damage increases your risk of developing all types of melanoma. Sun exposure can be especially risky if you’re sensitive or allergic to sunlight and get freckles or sunburn easily.
Regularly tanning in tanning salons, beds, or baths while you’re younger than 30 years also increases your risk of melanoma. Your risk increases if you lie in a tanning bed for 30 minutes or more at a time.
Having a low amount of melanin in your skin can increase your risk, too. Being of European descent or having albinism (no pigment in your skin at all) are two major risk factors for melanoma. Having a family history of melanoma can also increase your risk.
Other common risk factors include:
- having a lot of moles on your body, especially 50 or more
- having a weak immune system from an existing condition or recent operation
The most common treatment for an early-stage melanoma is surgery. Your doctor will remove the area affected by melanoma and sometimes a bit of the skin around it. This surgery is usually quick and can be done in a single day without having to spend a long time in the hospital.
Melanoma can spread to your lymph nodes. These are small structures throughout your body that house immune cells and help clear harmful materials from your body. You may need to have your lymph nodes removed along with the melanoma if this happens.
Advanced melanoma may need to be treated with chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, drugs are given to you by mouth or through your veins to help destroy the cancerous cells. You may also need radiation therapy. In radiation therapy, focused radiation energy is directed at your cancerous cells and kills them.
Other common treatments for melanoma include:
- biological therapy, or drugs that aid your immune system in killing cancer cells, including pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and ipilimumab (Yervoy)
- targeted therapy, or medications that help weaken cancer cells, including trametinib (Mekinist) and vemurafenib (Zelboraf)
Here are a few tips for preventing amelanotic melanoma:
- Apply sunscreen each time you go outside for 30 minutes or longer. This is especially important if you plan to be in direct sunlight.
- Use sunscreen even on cloudy days. UV rays can still pass through clouds.
- Wear clothes that protect your arms and legs. This is especially important if you plan to be outside for a while.
- Avoid tanning salons or beds.
Check your entire body often for any new moles. At least once per month, look for areas of skin that look abnormally textured, colored, or shaped using the ABCDE test. Amelanotic melanomas can metastasize (spread to other parts of your body) much more quickly than other types of melanoma.
Life expectancy and prognosis
Early-stage (stage 1, out of 4 possible stages) amelanotic melanoma is easier to treat than more advanced melanoma. If you catch it early, it’s likely you can treat the cancer and continue living without any complications. It’s possible for the cancer to return or for another area of melanoma to appear.
Melanoma can become harder to treat as it advances. You may require more long-term treatment or surgery to completely remove the cancer from your body. You may have over a 50 percent chance of full recovery even as melanoma advances to stages 2 and 3. Your chances of full recovery can drop well below 50 percent as melanoma advances to stage 4 and spreads, however.
Complications and outlook
Early-stage amelanotic melanoma isn’t too serious and can be treated without any complications. As melanoma advances, complications can get more serious and harder to treat, especially if the cancer spreads to your internal organs. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can make you feel nauseous and tired. Untreated melanoma can be fatal.
Catching melanoma in its early stages can prevent any further growth of the cancer cells and let you continue living your life without any complications. Keep track of the size and growth of any moles on your body and see your doctor to help you identify melanoma early on.