March 23, 2017 | Stephen Fine, Founder and President
Appearance Limitations in the Self-Detection of Melanoma
You’re probably already familiar with the saying, looks can be deceiving. Well, that old proverb becomes somewhat more tangible when it’s applied to the subject of melanoma.
What Does Melanoma Look Like?
That question doesn’t really have an easy answer. It’s somewhat akin to being asked to describe a typical Rorschach ink blot.
The truth is that melanomas can appear with a variety of looks. For instance, when several melanoma patients were asked to describe theirs, a wide assortment of answers were given. They can show up in different shapes, colors and textures. They may itch or not; secrete fluids or not. Some even match the color of the skin, while others look like a normal mole.
In fact, some moles that look awful can actually be harmless. And some that look harmless might turn out to be cancerous.
For example, below are some photographs to help illustrate. The one on the left seems to be little more than the result of an injury, or maybe nail fungus. The patient had it checked out and it was indeed melanoma. The photo on the right depicts an unsightly, even frightening-looking skin blemish. Yet, it was totally benign.
So How do I Know Which Skin Changes to Bring to My Doctor’s Attention?
This one’s easy. You don’t try and distinguish whether a skin issue is malignant or benign on your own. You would want to bring any new moles, blemishes or changes to existing moles to the attention of your dermatologist. Let them make the determination.
Out of Sight, but Keep in Mind…
There is no question that the vast majority of melanomas develop, and are easily spotted, on the skin. And most often by the patient first, before his or her doctor does. However, up to 10% of them are initially discovered in one or more of our other organs (skin is the body’s largest organ) or in a lymph node(s); with minimal to no outwardly visible mark or blemish.
There are dermatologists who theorize that these are due to melanomas that were not totally excised. Or “regression”; the belief that some melanoma cells made it into the bloodstream before the body’s natural defenses destroyed the cells that were on the skin. In other words, (non-medical jargon), the patient’s immune system closed the barn door after the horses had gotten out.
The photo below is one example of a melanoma with a “partial regression.”