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Melanoma 101

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. As a part of our efforts to educate on the risks and realities of skin cancer, we're taking a closer look at melanoma.

Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) mutate and uncontrollably divide.

There are four main types of melanoma.

  1. Superficial spreading: this is the most common type of melanoma. It often appears on the body and slowly spreads across the skin's surface.
  2. Nodular: the most aggressive type of melanoma, nodular melanoma is reddish, blue, or black in color. It typically appears on the trunk, head, or neck.
  3. Lentigo maligna: most commonly found on the face and neck. This is an early form of melanoma that has not spread beyond the skin's surface (epidermis). Sometimes, it is referred to as 'in situ.'
  4. Acral lentiginous (ALM): while melanoma is rare in people of color, this particular form of melanoma is the most common among Black, Latino, and Asian populations. It typically looks like a brown/black patch of skin, distinct from the surrounding tissue. Often, it develops under the nails, on the soles of the feet, or on the palms of hands.

Risk factors for melanoma

  • UV exposure, whether it's from the sun or tanning beds.
  • A history of sunburns, especially as a child.
  • Fair complexion, blond or red hair, or having numerous moles on your skin.
  • Family history of melanoma.

Spotting Melanoma

Early detection is key to surviving melanoma; fortunately, identifying a suspicious lesion is as easy as A, B, C, D, E:

  1. Asymmetry - one half of your mole does not match the other.
  2. Borders - the edges of the spot are uneven or blurred.
  3. Color - the lesion has several colors in it like black, brown, and red.
  4. Diameter - the spot is bigger than ΒΌ inch (the size of a pencil eraser).
  5. Evolution - your mole is changing colors, growing, or raising.

When to see a dermatologist

Besides moles that fall under the A, B, C, D, E criteria, there are a few other warning signs for melanoma that should prompt a visit with a dermatologist.

  • Sores that do not heal.
  • Moles that become painful, itchy, tender, or start to bleed.
  • New lumps that appear smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy.
  • New, flat red spots that become rough and dry.

Peace of mind online with DermatologistOnCall.

A virtual dermatology visit is a quick and easy way to protect your skin health. Our board-certified dermatologists can determine which spots or moles are of concern and require additional evaluation. On average, it takes 32 days to see a dermatologist in the office. Online, a virtual visit takes about 10 minutes to complete. Most of our patients receive a diagnosis in less than 24 hours (three days is the maximum amount of time you'll wait on the DermatologistOnCall platform). In the fight against skin cancer, time is critical.

When checking moles online, be sure to include any risk factors - especially family history - that you have for melanoma. Be honest with your provider about your sun and tanning bed habits. When conducting your visit, make sure you take photos in an area with adequate light. If possible, include an object or ruler for size reference, especially if the suspicious spot is large or in a difficult-to-assess area.