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What Is Melanoma?

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Melanoma. It is a scary word, and one of the most serious types of skin cancers. It forms from a special type of cells, melanocytes, that are found in the upper layer of skin, and provide pigmentation. Although it is frightening to talk about, we must learn more about melanoma in order to better know how to prevent it. 

Melanocytes are vital cells in our skin, as they produce pigment. The function of pigment in our skin is for protection from UV rays. They can help to minimize burning and decrease our risk for skin cancer development as a whole. Darker skinned individuals produce more concentrated pigment in their melanocytes, thus having more natural protection from the sun. When your skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, it damages the skin, triggering melanocytes to produce melanin to protect the skin by causing the skin to darken or tan. It should be noted, however, that there is no such thing as a “safe” tan. The presence of a tan means that skin damage has occurred.  

Melanomas can appear anywhere, especially areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun.  Normal moles are usually brown or black.  Typical warning signs of melanoma can be moles with irregular shapes, changes of color, or changes in size.  Factors that determine your risks can be excessive UV exposure with tanning beds and a history of blistering sunburns. Family history also plays a role, and people with a family history of melanoma need to be more vigilant.

There are four main types of melanomas.  Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common form and may look somewhat raised or flat with discoloration.  Nodular melanoma is the second most common type and most aggressive of all.  This can grow deep in the skin and can appear as a bump on the skin.  Lentigo maligna melanoma usually develops in people ages 60 or older.  It can appear as flat, uneven, or a blotchy patch.  Acral lentiginous melanoma is most found in dark skinned tone individuals.  It can appear under the nails or palms of your hands. 

Melanoma is rare but extremely serious.  The best chance of complete treatment and cure occurs with early detection.  You should see a dermatologist at least once a year for a full body skin check, and every three months with a history of melanoma.  When was the last time you had your skin checked?  Call to schedule an appointment with Dr. Papasakelariou today.  

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.