(Taken from the Messanas own blog at elevatedderm.com)
Moles are usually harmless, but when a new one appears or an older one changes, you may want to take a closer look. While not especially common, moles that are a skin cancer called melanoma can have serious -- and even lethal -- complications if they aren’t addressed early on. Luckily, staying on top of your skin care and seeing your doctor regularly can help ensure diagnosis and effective, timely treatment. You can also take steps to lower your risk for developing melanoma in the first place.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer in which DNA damage to your skin causes mutations that lead to cancerous growths. These tumors start in the layer of your skin known as the epidermis and often look like moles, which are usually brown or black, but can also be blue, flesh-toned, pink, purple, red, or white. It’s not the most common type of skin cancer, but it is considered the most dangerous.
Anyone can get melanoma, but certain factors increase your risk, including:
Ample sun exposure or tanning
Having many moles
Having fair skin, light eyes, and light hair
Personal or family history of melanoma
Weak immune function
If you hold one or more of these risk factors, you may want to take extra precautions to both lower risks you have control over, such as how much time you spend in the sun, and pay close attention to any changes in your skin.
Tests and Diagnosis
If you or your doctor suspects melanoma may be at play, an exam and certain tests can help rule out or confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes melanoma can be diagnosed through visual examination alone, but a biopsy is the one way to be certain. During a biopsy, a small part of the suspicious mole is removed and then analyzed. If the results are positive, the melanoma’s thickness and whether and how far it has spread can help determine the stage of the disease.
Treatment for melanoma varies depending on your overall health, the stage of the cancer, and your preferences. If it’s caught early enough, treatment typically involves surgical removal of the lesion, and you may not require any additional treatment. If the melanoma has spread to other parts of your body besides your skin, treatment may include chemotherapy, medications, radiation therapy, surgery to remove any affected lymph nodes, or therapies aimed at boosting your immune function.
Steps for Prevention
Whether or not you hold risk factors for melanoma, you can make the disease and other forms of skin cancer less likely. Avoid sun exposure when the sun’s rays are the strongest, or between 10am and 4pm in North America. Keep in mind that even on cloudy days, you absorb UV rays.
Wear sunscreen or sun-protective clothing, such as brimmed hats, when you’re outdoors, even during cooler seasons. If you want to look tan, consider a sunless tanner or bronzer, rather than sunbathing or tanning salon sessions. Lastly, stay aware of your skin’s appearance by looking it over routinely and using a mirror to peruse difficult-to-see places. If you notice changes in birthmarks, moles, or freckles anywhere on your body, schedule an exam.