Excessive sun exposure, especially with blistering sunburn episodes, is one of the major risk factors for the development of melanoma.
The incidence of melanoma has been increasing in fair-skinned people throughout the world for several decades. While melanoma accounts for only 4% of skin cancer cases, it causes about 80% of skin cancer deaths. It is therefore the most dangerous and lethal of all the skin cancers. South Africa has the second highest incidence after Australia. The average age of presentation is 50 years.
Melanoma is a malignant* skin cancer which arises from the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells. From the skin it can spread to the lymph glands or via the bloodstream to other organs such as the liver, lungs and bones (metastases). This is invariably fatal. It is therefore imperative to diagnose and treat melanoma as early as possible.
Melanoma occurs most often, but not exclusively, on sun-exposed skin. Excessive sun exposure, especially with blistering sunburn episodes, is one of the major risk factors for the development of melanoma.
Melanomas are usually brown-black or multicolored patches with irregular outlines, but they may be pink too. They may eventually crust and bleed. Think of them in terms of the ABCD rule:
A = Asymmetry Melanomas are often asymmetrical, whereas moles are generally symmetrical.
B = Border Melanomas frequently have irregular uneven borders with scallopededging. Benign* moles usually have smooth, even borders.
C = Colour Common moles are usually a single shade or shades of brown and black. Melanomas are often multicoloured, with multiple shades of brown, black, red, white, grey or blue.
D = Diameter Benign moles are usually (but not always) less than 6mm in diameter, whereas melanomas tend to be larger.
Be aware of any ABCD changes, and get to your dermatologist or general practitioner as soon as you notice any.
Remember that most people develop their moles before the age of 30. A sudden development of a new expanding, irregularly pigmented/ non-pigmented patch after the age of 30 should make the red lights flash.
The 10 golden rules
Atypical: The word “atypical” is often used to refer to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells.
Benign: Not harmful.
Dysplastic moles: Atypical moles that look different to common ordinary moles.
Malignant: Cancerous, with the ability to invade and destroy nearby tissue. Malignant tumours may spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body.