Moles can Signal High Risk of Melanoma
Moles are benign growths of the skin’s colour cells. They are medically referred to as melanocytic nevus. Moles are not apparent or visible in newborns. However, they become visible and will double in quantity in the second or third decade of a person’s life. Moles increase due to exposure to the sun. Anyone with moles on their bodies is at risk of developing cancerous moles. However, the risk may be higher for individuals who have a significant number of moles on their bodies. For example, someone with more than 50 moles on their body will be more susceptible to contracting a melanoma – a type of skin cancer.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer that affects more than 69,000 Americans. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that one in five Americans is affected with skin cancer. Skin cancer has been one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed for over 31 years. Melanin is a substance that gives skin and hair their natural colours. People with dark skin, such as Africans and Asians, have high amounts of melanin in their bodies. Melanin prevents damage caused by the harmful rays of the sun. Melanin is produced by melanocytes and continues to increase with age. A controlled cell proliferation of melanocytes is considered normal and benign. When produced in an uncontrolled manner, they are considered cancerous melanomas or moles.
Melanoma cells are found in the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) and between the epidermis and the subcutaneous tissue (dermis). The cancer can spread easily when the melanoma cells grow into the skin and tissue and come into contact with lymph and blood vessels. Therefore, it is necessary to remove the lesion from the skin once detected in order to prevent the spread of melanoma.
Types of Melanoma
There are several different types of melanoma or cancerous moles. Many are rare and will not affect a person easily. However, all melanoma types are dangerous. Therefore, having a basic idea about the types of melanoma will enable a person to be aware of what to look out for.
· Lentigo Meligna Type – This type of melanoma affects middle aged to elderly people. It is also the most common type of melanoma. Lentigo Meligna is most often mistaken for sun spots. This can have dire repercussions, as without proper detection, Lentigo Meligna can spread throughout the body. Lentigo Meligna begins with irregular borders and can vary in shape and colour. This type of melanoma will lie in the upper layer of the skin for years before burrowing deep into the skin and becoming cancerous and spreading rapidly. Once Lentigo Meligna is detected, targeted therapy or surgery is an option which patients can consider. If detected early, this type of melanoma can be managed before it spreads further.
· Superficial Spreading Melanoma – Superficial Spreading Melanoma (SSM) is commonly found in the back, thighs and upper arms. SSM is very common among white skinned people. A previously benign mole can become an SSM. The initial appearance of the melanoma will resemble a freckle. However, with time it will darken or lighten, may itch and may grow with irregular borders. Unlike Lentigo Meligna, SSM will not remain in the flat phase for long. As SSM spreads rapidly, it is crucial to obtain medical advice if a pigment resembling the above mentioned melanoma pictures appears on the skin.
· Nodular Melanoma – Nodular melanoma is considered the most aggressive type of skin cancer. More common in men than in women, it will appear in men over the age of 60. This type of melanoma will appear where there was no mole before. Although it can appear anywhere on the body, it is most commonly apparent on the trunk, thighs and upper arms. The flat phase of the nodular melanoma is very short. The lesion will appear raised, darker and nodular in shape once the melanoma has penetrated the skin.
· Acral Lentiginous Melanoma – Acral Lentiginous Melanoma is most commonly found on the hands and feet and nail beds of dark skinned people. However, it is not confined to only dark skinned people. This melanoma may initially resemble a bruise or a streak. Due to its lack of a dangerous appearance, this type of melanoma is often overlooked and ignored until it is too late. However, as it has a long, flat phase, early detection may be able to prevent the cancer from entering and penetrating deeper into the skin.
Cancer of any form can be a dire medical condition and needs to be avoided at all costs. The most important aspect in preventing such complications is to be alert to any malignant growths and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect such a growth. Paying attention to any unusual moles that appear on the body will enable a person to avoid complications that arise from cancerous moles. By looking at various melanoma pictures, you can increase your awareness of various types of mole and be able to detect any undesirable skin growths early on.