SolveYourProblem Article Series: Skin Cancer
Help Me Understand Skin Cancer



Malignant Melanoma (Skin Cancer)
- Causes, Symptoms

Malignant melanoma is not as common as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, however, it is much more serious. With this particular skin cancer a tumor starts to develop from the deeper layers of the skin that contain the pigment producing cells. These are called melanocytes and they can often group together and form what we call moles on our skin. While most moles are benign it is estimated that nearly fifty percent of all melanomas are connected with moles. These oddly shaped moles can be referred to as dysplastic nevi and can be precursors to skin cancer.

Now whereas, the melanoma can begin with an oddly shaped mole that an individual has always had, it can also start anew with a brown or black, freckle type spot on the surface of the skin. They have also included such colors as white, red or blue. The main point however, is that there will be evidence of a change happening with a spot on the skin.

There are four main types of melanomas with characteristics that vary slightly from one to the other. They are: Superficial spreading melanoma - being the most common type it is also found more often with women. It makes up approximately two thirds of all melanomas diagnosed. It can typically start as a new flat spot or an existing mole will grow and become raised and irregular. It is usually asymmetrical.

Next is Acral lentiginous melanoma that is more common with dark skinned people. The spots will have a flat dark surface with raised bumpy spots that are dark brown or black. They are located typically on the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands, in mucous membranes, or the nail beds of the toes or fingers.

Nodular melanoma is when the underlying skin tissue is affected first without being manifested on the surface of the skin first. It seems to be found more often in men that it is in women. Eventually the lumps or lesions on the skin can resemble blood blisters. The colors can vary though, from white to blue black. This is a type of skin cancer that can metastasize quickly and spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

And finally, Lentigo maligna melanoma is evidenced by lesions that typically occur on the sun exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears or neck. This is really a result of long sun exposure and seems to only rarely occur before the age of fifty. It is also usually preceded by a stage called lentigo maligna that is not cancerous but is a warning that it may appear. It is found to be more common with women than men.

As with the more common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma is thought to be primarily caused by an over exposure to the sun's UV rays. Even excessive exposure from artificial sources such as tanning booths, can play a role in making a person more vulnerable. In essence these rays act to disrupt the genetic material that form the cells. This causes tissue damage. The cell's repair system is also altered leaving the door open to skin cancer.

The vulnerability or chances of sensitivity can also come from genetic factors that can mean that a person's makeup is such that their cells may not repair as well as others do or just simply that they have a greater than average number of moles or irregular moles and thus a greater chance at developing this skin cancer.

Ultimately, the key as always, is an awareness of risk factors and early detection and treatment.

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