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Close-up photo of melanoma showing irregular border, multi-colored growth with central loss of pigment

Melanoma

What is a melanoma?

Melanoma is a from of skin cancer that originates from the melanocytes (pigment producing cells) located in the skin. It most commonly occurs in sun-exposed areas, but it can show up in any location including the bottom of the feet, inside the mouth, in the eye, and in the groin. Nearly 200,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S. each year. Melanoma kills nearly 8,000 people each year making it the most deadly form of skin cancer

What causes melanoma?

There is no single cause but there are several risk factors associated with the development of melanoma. These risk factors include:

  • History of significant sun exposure

  • History of tanning bed use, even if it was in the past

  • History of sunburns

  • Family history of melanoma

  • Having fair skin

  • Having greater than 50 moles

  • Personal history of skin cancer

How should I look for melanoma?

Once a month, you should perform a full skin exam of all body surface areas. This includes areas where the sun doesn't shine. For areas that are hard to visualize such as your back, you should use a mirror or have a partner help examine those areas. If you have any risk factors mentioned above, you should see a dermatologist once a year for a full skin exam.

 

When looking for melanoma, it is always important to compare any mole you are looking at with your other moles. If it looks similar to the rest of your moles, you probably do not need to be worried about. We call this looking for the "ugly duckling mole". If it doesn't look like your other moles, or is irregular in the ways described below, or if the spot is bleeding and won't heal, you should be concerned for melanoma and should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist promptly.  

ABCDE of Melanoma

To help patients be able to identify melanoma, a simple ABCDE mnemonic was developed. By using the criteria listed below, you have a much better chance of knowing when you need to see a dermatologist. Through early detection, you have a much better chance at survival. Nearly 8,000 people die of melanoma in the U.S. annually. Most of these deaths could be prevented by early detection as melanomas that are diagnosed early have a 99% survival rate. 

A is for Asymmetry - The two halves of the spot are not the same

B is for Border - The border of the spot is irregular or poorly defined

C is for Color - The spot contains multiple colors

D is for Diameter - Most melanomas are larger than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser

E is for evolving - The spot looks different than other moles or changes in size, shape, or color

A is for Asymmetry - The two halfs of the spot are not the same.

B is for Border - The border of the spot is irregular or poorly defined

C is for Color - The spot contains multiple colors

D is for Diameter - Most melanomas are larger than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser

E is for evolving - The spot looks different than other moles or changes in size, shape, or color

See a Board Certified Dermatologist today!

Portrait of Ryan Harris, MD

Dr. Ryan Harris, MD is a board certified dermatologist located in Meridian, Idaho who has over a decade of experience in examining moles. He was trained by one of the countries experts in melanoma, and has authored papers on diagnostic techniques for melanoma as well as skin cancer screening. He is very thorough in his examinations and takes great care in making sure that no concerning spots are missed. If you have any moles or other growths you are worried about, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.

See a Board Certified Dermatologist today!

See a Board Certified Dermatologist today!

Dr. Ryan Harris, MD is a board certified dermatologist located in Meridian, Idaho who has over a decade of experience in examining moles. He was trained by one of the countries experts in melanoma, and has authored papers on diagnostic techniques for melanoma as well as skin cancer screening. He is very thorough in his examinations and takes great care in making sure that no concerning spots are missed. If you have any moles or other growths you are worried about, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.

How is melanoma treated?

Especially if it is caught early, melanoma treatment is very straightforward. The cancer is cut out or "excised". The surgeon will take an appropriate amount of tissue based on how deep your melanoma invaded into the skin. In general these excisions are quite large as the surgeon usually needs to take 0.5 - 1.0cm  around the growth to safely remove the entire cancer. After it is cut out, the wound is closed usually by placing many stiches. If the cancer is further along, additional tests may be done to see if the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. If spread has occurred, patients are usually treated with various types of chemotherapy. Although melanoma is still very deadly, advances in treatments have been made to provide patients with a better chance of survival. 

After initial diagnosis and treatment, the patient is usually monitored very closely by a dermatologist. Full skin exams are typically performed every 3 months for a year, then every 6 months for a year, and then at least annually for the rest of a patient's life. At each visit, the dermatologist will also ask other questions related to health to see if there are symptoms concerning for metastasis. It is important for anyone with a history of melanoma to keep the recommended follow ups to monitor for signs that the cancer has returned, and to make sure no new melanomas develop as these patients are at a higher risk for developing additional melanomas or other skin cancers. 

See a Board Certified Dermatologist today!

See a Board Certified Dermatologist today!

Dr. Ryan Harris, MD has over a decade of experience in examining moles. He was trained by one of the countries experts in dermoscopy and has authored papers on diagnostic techniques for melanoma as well as skin cancer screening. He is very thorough in his examinations and takes great care in making sure that no concerning spots are missed. If you have any moles or other growths you are worried about, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.