Melanoma is a rare and dangerous form of skin cancer originating from pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin and also in the eyes. Melanoma occurring on the skin is called cutaneous and when it occurs in the eye it is called intraocular melanoma. The coloration of the melanoma is usually black or brown but can vary between shades of pink and purple and may resemble a mole. Unlike the other skin cancers that are usually localized, melanoma invades surrounding structures and can spread to any part of the body. This condition is more common in women and is becoming more prevalent. Exposure to ultraviolet light is a known risk factor in predisposing disease development but the exact cause remains unknown. Early recognition and treatment can be curative.
The initial presentation is either an abnormal growth on the skin or a change in an existing mole. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin but are more common in the parts of the body that have more exposure to the sun. They can occur in anyone so it is important to check your skin for any signs of growth or change.
A normal mole is symmetrical in shape, has distinct borders, and is uniform in color. Causes for suspicion in otherwise healthy skin include the following:
A mole with an asymmetrical shape. If you draw a line down the middle of it and both halves are not mirrored images of each other then it is asymmetrical.
The edges are blurry and abnormally formed. This is cause for concern. In a normal mole, the border is sharp and clearly demarcated from the surrounding skin.
Uneven coloration. The coloration of the melanoma is usually black or brown but can vary between shades of pink and purple and may resemble a mole.
Large size, or change in size. Check for any kind of change in already existing moles including growth or itching.
Melanomas can occur at sites where individuals may not normally think to check and are thus termed hidden melanomas. These can be on the soles of the feet or under a fingernail.