In most every case, the first symptoms of melanoma are a visible and abnormal growth on the skin. The most serious type of skin cancer, melanomas develop in the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) which gives your skin its color. These melanocytes are in the deeper levels of the epidermis, making the tumors harder to detect and closer to reaching the dermis and lymph nodes. Melanomas most commonly occur in the skin but are also found in the eyes and intestines.
Along with genetics, risk factors include age, skin types, and exposure to sunlight. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body but are more common in areas that have been severely sunburned or which receive regular exposure to sunlight. People over 40 have an increased risk of skin cancer, but melanomas have also become more common in people under 40. Hidden melanomas which occur in the soles of the feet, palm of the hands, and fingernails can be especially dangerous. While people with lighter skin are more likely to develop skin cancer, these hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.
Detecting Melanoma Symptoms
All types of skin cancer that progresses into the later stages of reaching the lymph nodes and potentially metastasizing can be deadly. Melanomas, however, are a lot more likely to reach these later stages. Thus, any potential signs of skin cancer are serious enough to warrant a visit to the dermatologist, but it’s especially important to know what the symptoms of melanoma may look like.
- Melanomas can be many colors, but are most often brown, dark purple, or red. They also tend to have multiple shades of color with irregular patterns. Normal moles usually have a more uniform color throughout.
- Melanomas also tend to have irregular shapes and borders. Think of elaborate coastlines or a small batch of islands. They can be sharply raised up or shallower ulcers with faded edges.
- Melanomas tend to change over time. They may take on different colors and shapes as they grow larger. Normal moles may become a cancerous melanoma. If a mole becomes larger, changes color, and/or hardens, you should get it checked out immediately.
When doing your own at-home skin check, don’t focus solely on your existing moles. In fact, only 20-30 percent of melanomas start as normal moles. This PDF from the Mayo Clinic offers a series of images of different melanomas. This will help you know what to look for and to understand the wide range of appearances that melanomas may have. More advanced symptoms of melanoma include hard lumps, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, and pain.
Schedule an Appointment
If there’s any doubt about whether a skin blemish might be cancer of any type, you should make an appointment with our Mt. Vernon medical dermatology clinic. Whether melanoma detection occurs at home or at the dermatologist office, early diagnosis of the melanoma symptoms is the key to a successful outcome. A simple biopsy can rule out the worst-case scenarios and determine what melanoma treatment, if any, is necessary.