What is melanoma?
Each year, more than 1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer. Most skin cancer cases can be divided into three main subtypes: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. While only 4 percent of skin cancers diagnosed are melanoma, most skin cancer deaths are caused by melanoma. Every year, it causes more deaths than the other two types of skin cancer combined. One of the reasons melanoma can be deadly is because it often develops in hard to see places, such as the genitals or inside the mouth.
Melanoma is comprised of five subgroups. One of these subgroups is nodular melanoma. Like all types of melanoma, nodular melanoma develops in the skin cells that create melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
Most skin cancer screening pamphlets tell you to check for the ABCD symptoms of skin cancer. E, F, and G, can also help you detect nodular melanoma and some other types of melanoma.
If you were to draw a line through a healthy mole, each half would look similar. Melanomas are more likely to be asymmetrical when compared to a normal mole.
A mole has smooth edges and clearly defined borders. Cancerous moles may have fuzzy borders and notched or scalloped edges.
Abnormal coloring of a mole is definitely a reason for concern. Most nodular melanomas will appear as a blackish-blue or reddish-blue bump. However, some nodules have no color or are flesh-toned.
Flesh-toned nodules are called amelanotic nodules. These melanoma spots appear as the same color as the surrounding skin because the nodule lacks pigment. Amelanotic nodules occur in about 5 percent of nodular melanoma cases.
If the skin lesion is larger than 6 millimeters in diameter or growing, it may be a sign of melanoma.
Some skin cancers begin as bumps or thick spots on your skin. As its name suggests, a nodule, or a dome-shaped growth on the skin, is the primary characteristic of nodular melanoma. Increased elevation of the skin bump is a warning sign for melanoma, particularly for nodular melanoma, and should be a red flag that something may be wrong.
Moles and birthmarks that rise above the skin are typically limp or give easily when pressed. Nodular melanomas are not. Instead, these melanoma sites are often very firm to the touch, not giving or moving when pressured with a finger.
Press the site that concerns you with your finger. If you feel a hard knot, ask your doctor to look at the growth.
Nodular melanomas typically grow very quickly.
New freckles or moles typically develop and stop growing within a few weeks. New developments that continue to grow after two or three weeks may be melanoma.
The most common growth sites for nodular melanoma are the neck, head, and the trunk of the body. Unlike some other types of skin cancer, nodular melanomas typically begin as a new growth, rather than developing within a pre-existing mole.
It can take as little as three months for these types of cancer to spread internally. Nodular melanoma can quickly jump to advanced stages. That is part of what makes this type of skin cancer so deadly. Advanced stages of nodular melanoma are difficult to successfully treat.
Early stages of melanoma are treated by using surgery to remove the melanoma and some of the healthy skin surrounding the melanoma. Your doctor may also recommend a lymph node biopsy so they can see if any cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes.
Melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes or internal organs requires other treatment methods, such as:
- targeted therapy
Melanoma becomes more difficult to treat and cure once it has begun to spread internally. If melanoma is found, diagnosed, and treated before it begins to spread, the 5-year survival rate is 100 percent.
Make an appointment with your doctor for a regular skin cancer screening each year. Early detection is the best treatment.
If you have a concern that you may have skin cancer, talk to your doctor. This cancer is very treatable if caught early. It’s always a good idea to show a doctor any skin abnormalities that you find.
These preventive measures can help you avoid melanoma:
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun-protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher whenever you’re outside (even in the winter).
- Reapply your sunscreen every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Protect your lips with SPF lip products.
- Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day.
- Seek shade and protection from the sun when possible.
- Wear sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirts, and long pants when outside.