What Is Melanoma and How to Detect It

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Have you found yourself looking for more information on melanoma? Is it caused by the sun? Is it in your genes? And what do the early signs of melanoma look like?

We understand it’s a big, often scary subject to tackle—but it’s also a very important one. In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates that 106,110 new melanomas will be diagnosed, as rates of melanoma rise across the USA. Yet, many of these cases are preventable through knowledge and early detection. 

 In fact, that’s why May has been declared Skin Cancer Awareness Month, to help bring attention to understanding the causes and early symptoms of melanoma. In honor of this, ISDIN spoke to Dr. Susana Puig, a world-renowned dermatologist in the field of diagnosis and treatment of melanoma and skin cancer.

What is Melanoma and How to Detect It

Dr. Puig explained how to perform a self-skin examination, when to go to a dermatologist for a check-up and how you can reduce the risk of melanoma.

What is melanoma? And what causes it?

At ISDIN, we spend a lot of time researching the sun and its damaging effects on the skin. That’s because we understand, and frequently talk about, the fact that the sun causes 80% of skin aging. But it’s also through this repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) rays that the risk of skin cancer is increased.

One of the principal negative effects of sun exposure is the appearance of lesions on the skin. These lesions can be precancerous or cancerous. Within the realm of cancerous lesions, lies melanoma. 

Anyone can get skin cancer even if they aren’t especially at risk, but the likelihood increase in those who:

  • Have lighter skin tones
  • Had sunburns during childhood
  • Spend many hours in the sun (for leisure or for occupation)
  • Use or have used tanning beds
  • Have more than 50 moles or beauty spots
  • Have a history of skin cancer in the family
  • Are 50 years of age or older
  • Have had an organ transplant

Melanoma is the most aggressive kind of skin cancer.

What do early signs of melanoma look like? It’s often a change in the size, shape, color or texture of a mole.

What is Melanoma?

Many melanomas present with a bluish or black area. A melanoma can also present as a new mole, which may look abnormal when compared to ‘regular’ moles.

Melanoma: what to look out for

The key to detecting melanoma is by finding a new mole on the skin, noticing a change in size, shape or color of an existing mole or noticing skin changes such as a change in a freckle or change in skin pigmentation. Another key sign is if a mole on your body looks different to others on your skin.

A useful technique to detect melanoma is the ABCDE technique:

  • Asymmetry: the outline of one half of the mole is different to the other.
  • Borders: the edges are uneven, ill-defined or irregular.
  • Color: the color is uneven and can include black, brown and cinnamon-colored shades.
  • Diameter: its size changes, usually increasing.
  • Evolution: any changes in the mole in the last few weeks or months.

Other warning signs could be:

  • A wound that does not heal.
  • The color of the mole spreading from the edge of a mark to the surrounding skin.
  • Reddening or new inflammation beyond the mole border.
  • Change in feeling (itching, tenderness or pain).
  • Change in the surface of a mole (peeling, exudation, bleeding or an apparent protuberance or nodule).

If you detect any moles or marks on your skin with the above characteristics, visit your dermatologist for a skin examination and diagnosis.

How is a skin examination conducted at the dermatologist’s office?

Dermatologists can combine several techniques for a skin examination including digital dermoscopy, or a handheld dermoscope.

How is a Skin Examination Conducted at the Dermatologist Office?

Healthcare professionals analyze all moles on the body, face and neck and interpret them with these diagnostic imaging techniques. It is important to examine the whole body, because sometimes melanoma can appear in places that are not easily visible.

New computerized diagnostic systems can generate complete body maps as well as locate lesions and file the images. This helps to monitor the patient and detect minimal changes in their moles that may suggest that they are becoming malignant.

Although this may seem a very slow process, Dr. Susana Puig, with over 25 years’ experience in dermatology, told us that analyzing around 100 moles can take just one-and-a-half minutes.

Dermoscopy is an imaging technique to see structures that are not visible to the naked eye

“Dermoscopy is an imaging technique to see structures that are not visible to the naked eye. It magnifies up to 10× or 30× and prevents the stratum corneum from reflecting light so we can see deep into the skin. This improves diagnostic accuracy by 25%”.

DR. SUSANA PUIG

When should you undergo a skin examination?

If you suspect a skin abnormality, such as moles that have changed, off-pink flaky lesions that do not heal (particularly on the head and neck), etc., you should go to your dermatologist for a skin examination.

Moreover, people with risk factors should go for annual skin examinations with a dermatologist.

And, of course, don’t forget to protect your skin from harmful UVB and UVA rays with 100% mineral, high-protection sunscreens every day of the year, rain or shine. 

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1 Comment
  1. I didn’t know that melanoma is the most aggressive kind of skin cancer. My sister recently found out that she might have melanoma, so my family and I are trying to learn more about it and raise awareness about it. I think that it would be smart to make sure that we are taking care of our skin and I think it might also be smart to get some melanoma awareness pins to help start conversations about it and help show our support. Thanks for detailing what melanoma is and how to detect it.

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