What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that give skin their color, called melanocytes, become abnormal and grow out of control. Melanoma only accounts for about 5% of all skin cancers in the United States, but it is the cause of more cancer-related deaths than any other skin cancer.

According to educated guesses from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, more than 100,000 people living in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma. The organization estimates that roughly 7,000 of those people will die from the disease in 2021.

What are Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma?

Moles are perhaps the most famous sign of melanoma. But the important thing to understand is that moles, lumps, and skin tags are very common. In fact, most of us have some sort of oddity on our skin where there is a small mass of skin that is a different color or shape than the rest of our skin. Most of the time, these imperfections are normal, harmless, and just part of being human.

What’s important to understand is that skin cancer can have many different appearances.

When it comes to melanoma, the cancer looks like a mole, but the difference is that the mole looks funny. The color and shape tend to be “off.” At one point, doctors used to tell their patients to use the following as a good gauge to know if you should seek medical attention for your mole. It’s called “the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma”:

  • “A” refers to asymmetry. Harmless moles are typically perfectly round or look pretty much the same all the way around. With melanoma, you want to look for the mole having a shape that is not a mirror image of itself or the mole has parts that look completely different.
  • “B” stands for border. Normal moles have smooth and regular-looking borders, but a malignant mole’s border looks irregular and rugged.
  • “C” refers to color. Is the mole uneven in color?
  • “D” represent diameter. Is the mole larger than the head of an eraser?
  • “E” stands for evolving, referring to the mole’s appearance. Has the mole changed in the way it looks over recent weeks or months?

How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed and Treated? Can You Prevent It, and If So, How?

Self-monitoring is one of the keys to prevention and early diagnosis. Try to memorize the A-B-C-D-Es of skin cancer. Regularly check your body for new moles and changes in the appearances of moles you already have. Share any concerns with your doctor.

If you are diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will usually perform surgery to remove it before doing anything else. However, if the cancer is advanced, meaning it has spread into deeper layers of the skin, you may need other treatments to control the spread of the cancer.