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I have a friend who's foot had a small spot that looked different. It was purple and white and itched. That spot started because a melanocyte had gone out of control. He was informed by his personal physician that he had a melanoma.
Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. Melanin gives dark or tan color to the skin. But, when one of these cells gets out of control, it can produce one of the most dangerous cancers known. And more than 52,0007 people are told that they have melanoma every year just inside the United States.
Risks for getting Melanoma
The most common risk factor for melanoma known is over exposure to ultraviolet rays. When melanoma was first studied, it was found that people who worked outdoors had a much higher risk of melanoma. Then it was found out that mostly those who had gotten a sunburn that caused blisters were much more likely to get a malignant melanoma.
People with light skin are much more likely to get melanoma. This might likely be related to the fact that they are more likely to get skin damage by sun exposure. But, this is not a hard and fast fact.
Those who have lots of nevi (moles) are at higher risk for melanoma, especially those who have over 50. Also, those with a particular type of mole called a dysplastic nevus are at higher risk.
Some people have had other skin cancers successfully treated including squamous cell carcinoma. Those people are more likely to get melanoma.
If you have had other people in your family that had melanoma, then you are more likely to get a melanoma as well.
Finally, those who have a weakened immune system get malignant melanomas more frequently. Whether a person has AIDS, an organ transplant needing medications to curtail the immune system or others using those medications, that person will have a higher risk.
One published case exemplified the role of genetics in melanoma. A man who was a chimera got melanoma. A chimera is someone who has different parts of the body having two different sets of DNA. This could be the result when twins are formed and somehow join into one body. This man had large metastatic lumps on one side of his body and none at all on the other!
How to Identify a Malignant Melanoma
The only way to be sure whether a bump on your skin is a melanoma or not is to have your doctor take it off and get it studied by a pathologist. However, there are some ways to know if you should be suspicious of one of those lumps or bumps.
Irregular Border - A melanoma will usually have an uneven border. The average mole has a sharp border. You can point to any spot on your skin and say for sure whether it is part of the mole or not. This is not the case with melanoma.
Asymmetric Shape - The melanoma lesions typically have two halves that don't look like mirror images.
Different Color - Malignant Melanomas often will have different parts of the tumor that have different colors.
Size - most melanomas are larger than other moles. And they also tend to grow and may bleed or itch.
If you have a supicious lesion that you have a question about, get it examined by your doctor early. Getting that tumor removed early gives you a much better chance of a cure. Particularly when the lump is still quite small.