The appearance of melanomas can vary widely from one to another. They develop in many difference colors, sizes and other unique visual characteristics. For this reason, trying to discern whether a mole is cancerous just by looking at it isn’t a reliable method. Even dermatologists can’t always tell the difference based solely on appearance.
However, there is one distinctive warning sign that (nearly) always identifies a melanoma: change. it’s the most important reason why performing a regular monthly skin self-examination is so vital. It’s just as significant to check any pre-existing skin growths for change as it is to look for new ones.
What to Look for
This is a list of skin growth changes to help learn what it is you should be looking for:
– An increase in its diameter or elevation
– A change in its shape; especially if that shape has become irregular
– A change in its color or shade
– Persistent itching
– Any change in its surface, including:
- How it feels to your touch
- How it reacts to light (reflects)
- Development of one or more bumps- even if they’re small
- An ulceration (liquid-like appearance, such as found in an open sore)
- Bleeding spontaneously or upon minor trauma
Any of these changes that continue for 3 weeks or longer need to be checked out. Though any bleeding or ulcerations should be brought to the immediate attention of a dermatologist.
Please note that this list is a helpful guide, but it’s not all-inclusive. Any changes to skin growths that are not found here should not be ignored.
For more information about the two main types of melanoma, read our blog post Radial and Nodular Melanoma.CHANGE: The Most Important Melanoma Warning Sign
Self-examination is among the most vital weapons we all have in the fight against melanoma. There is no doubt that the more people the melanoma awareness community can reach with this message, the more lives it can save.
Why is Self-examination So Important?
As that is a fair question, we’ll give you two excellent reasons. The speed at which melanoma is discovered and treated is literally the difference between life and death. If diagnosed early enough, it can be cured quite easily. If too late, it can (and will) spread throughout the body and then painfully attack our other organs until it turns fatal.
Another fact is that patients first discover their melanomas more often than their doctors will. And of course, many of us don’t visit our physicians regularly enough to depend on them to sufficiently monitor our skin.
A Few Notes About Self-examination
The good news is that self-examination is a simple process, and takes only ten minutes or so per month. For those who may need extra motivation, please note that almost every melanoma fatality could have been prevented by early self-detection.
Furthermore, around 30% of melanomas develop onto areas of our skin that are rarely, if ever, introduced to the sun. So even if you do see your doctor on a schedule, he or she likely wouldn’t examine you in some of those areas anyway. Unless you bring it to their attention.
Performing Your Self-examination
There are two main forms of melanoma: Radial and Nodular. Nodular is the less common of the two, but it’s also deadlier. And though rare, our percentage chances of developing it are much higher in our adolescence and teenage years than they are after we reach adulthood. To learn much more about nodular melanoma, please click here.
This is how you search for radials:
On the parts of your skin that you can easily see, (arms, front/sides of legs, between fingers, toes, palms, soles, under finger and toenails) check for any new or existing moles, blemishes and marks with irregular shapes and/or dark colors. Also, note any that turn itchy and/or begin secreting fluids.
Use the combination of a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to check your back, back of legs, ears, armpits, neck and private areas. Employ a hairdryer to move your hair around as you check over your scalp.
Here are a couple of tips to make it even easier than that:
If you have a spouse, significant other or trusted friend, ask him or her to check your back and ears.
Many of us get our hair styled or cut every month or two. If this includes you, excellent. Simply ask your barber or stylist to alert you if he or she comes across any odd marks while performing their task.
For an easy access to this process, just save and print out this diagram:
Gender, Ethnicity and Melanoma
While it’s true that Caucasians and other pale-toned ethnicities are more likely to develop melanoma, it’s equally true that anyone of any age, gender or skin color can develop it, too. In fact, though it’s certainly more common in white people, once it appears it’s more often fatal to African-Americans.
Melanoma can begin anywhere on our bodies. If you’re a Caucasian man or woman, this diagram will show you the percentage breakdown of where it occurs:
If you’re Asian, Hispanic or African-American, it can be most commonly found on your hands, feet, toe and fingernails, and between the toes and fingers themselves. Indeed, legendary singer Bob Marley’s ultimately fatal Melanoma began in his toe.
Self-examining for Early Signs of Melanoma
Please, take just a few minutes out of each month to protect your health.
Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer, and its worst form is melanoma. Today, we’d like to talk a little bit about the two main types of melanoma: radial and nodular. You wouldn’t want to develop either, as both can end up being just as fatal. However, of the two, nodular is worse.
More often than not, nodular melanoma will present itself on an area of skin that was previously free of blemishes. Less common, but still feasible, is for it to piggyback onto a mole that was already there.
So, what do they look like? To borrow from one of our own two highly-informative websites, they’re often dome-shaped. Also, “The colors of nodular melanomas are usually black, blue-black, dark brown, or brown-red. However, occasionally they are red, pink, grey, flesh-tone, or light to medium brown.”
A primary difference between nodular melanoma and other skin cancers is that it starts under the skin, and as such is harder to detect at its outset. As you’ll read many times to come on this blog, as well as any other material on skin cancer that’s worth its salt, nothing is more vital to potentially curing a melanoma patient than the speed of its discovery and treatment. The last thing anyone would want to do is disregard the initial warning signs of a melanoma that gives itself a head start.
To better assist people with keeping track of what to look for, an easy way has been developed to remember the properties of a nodular melanoma. Simply use the sequential letters EFG: E = Elevated, F = Firm, G = Growing.
Once we reach adulthood, our chance of incurring a nodular melanoma drops to around 20%. However, in our pre-teen and adolescent years, those numbers hover between 40% and 60%. If you’re a parent, we urge you to keep these figures in mind and talk with your child(ren) about the importance of practicing sun-safety.
Radial melanoma presents visibly on the surface of the skin from its very beginning. It spreads slower than the nodular version but, if ignored long enough, it too can- and often does -lead to the same ill-fated result.
Radials are asymmetrical in shape, grow larger than a pencil eraser, and can feature an array of different colors. They may also impact an existing mole. So, it’s important to alert your doctor or dermatologist if you notice a familiar mole begin to get larger, change color, texture, become itchy and/or start secreting fluids.
As radials progress, their hues turn darker. When a melanoma begins to transform on our skin from horizontal to vertical, it’s like turning over an hourglass. Sooner or later, time will run out. Time is of the essence, and monthly self-examinations are paramount.
The reason Melanoma Awareness organizations focus so much on encouraging self-examinations is because most melanomas aren’t discovered first by doctors. They’re discovered by their patients.
Of course, with that said, unless you have a Doctorate of Dermatology hanging on your wall, don’t try to self-diagnose. A skin blemish may look very similar to a picture of melanoma you find online, yet turn out to be nothing at all. Conversely, a new mark that appears normal may be anything but. Please let your doctor make the determination.
To read a melanoma overview that’s been conveniently condensed onto one page, please click here. The more you learn about melanoma, the safer you can make yourself- and anyone else you may be responsible for.
Please help us to help you. Thank you.Radial and Nodular Melanoma