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Malignant Melanoma (part I)

Malignant melanoma is a serious skin cancer affecting the melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells located at the base of the epidermis (see the skin). They are responsible for producing Melanin which is a protein that gives color to the skin, eyes and hair. In the skin melanin pigment acts as an umbrella that absorbs and protects the skin from the effect of ultraviolet radiation. The more melanin produced by melanocyes, the darker the skin.

Malignant melanoma known also as melanoma happens when melanocytes begin to grow in an uncontrollable way. It can happen at all ages but it’s more common in young adults and the risk increases with age. Although anyone can be affected, there are certain risk factors that increase the risk of having malignant melanoma and these risk factors include:

  • Fair colored skin.
  • Excessive sunlight exposure.
  • History of sunburn.
  • Previous history of melanoma or other skin cancer squamous or basal cell carcinoma.
  • Family history of melanoma.
  • Presence of large number of moles (more than 50).
  • Presence of abnormal moles (called a typical or dysplastic mole).
  • People with low immune system such as those with Aids or having organ transplantation.
  • People with Xeroderma pigmentosa witch is a genetic disorder.

Signs and symptoms:

Malignant melanoma can appear in normal looking skin or can be appear in a previously present mole or freckle. Warning Changes in a mole or a freckle include:

The ABCDE guide:

  • A for asymmetry in shape where one half is different from the other half.
  • B for border, change in border may include notched or poorly defined border.
  • C for color, uneven distribution of color or more than one color in a lesion is a warning sign.
  • D for diameter, lesions with a diameter greater than 6 millimeter is a warning sign.
  • E for evolving (changing, enlarging).

Other warning changes may include:

  • Itching.
  • Change in consistency eg, become hard.
  • Change in sensation.
  • Bleeding.
  • Oozing.
  • Pigment spread to the surrounding skin.

Malignant melanoma can appear anywhere in the body where melanocytes are present, some appear on sun exposed areas such as the face and hands while others can appear in places such as under the nail (subungual), between the toes, palms and soles, the eye, genitals and mouth. Primary tumors are more common on the back in men and on the lower extremity in women.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.