- Change in the appearance of an existing mole or freckle
- Dark skin or band of skin underneath or around a finger or toenail
- Itchiness, pain, or bleeding at an affected area
in Fargo, North Dakota
Chances are, you know someone who has or will develop melanoma at some point in their life. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, but it’s also the most easily preventable. Along with regularly protecting your skin from sun exposure, it’s important to know what signs to watch out for during your regular screenings so that it can be treated before it spreads to other areas.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is often described as the most dangerous. It occurs because of unchecked cell growth that forms tumors on the skin, often looking similar to moles or freckles. It can occur on the top layers of the skin, called the epidermis, but can spread to the lower layers and even other areas of the body where it can become fatal. For this reason, it’s important to find and treat early.
UV (ultraviolet) light causes melanoma to develop. This can occur on clear skin, or it can cause an existing mole to turn into a melanoma. Either can be caused by regular sun exposure without SPF (sun protection factor) or through tanning bed use. UV light, when exposed to the skin, causes damage to the DNA in skin cells, causing them to mutate and begin multiplying.
There are many known risk factors for developing melanoma, the most common of which is regular UV exposure through sunlight or tanning beds. Certain skin types can be more prone to sun damage and sunburn, which can greatly increase the chance of developing melanomas— fair skin is most prone to melanomas, but the skin of all types and colors can still be at risk. There can also be a hereditary aspect to melanoma, meaning you have a higher chance of developing it if a close relative has had melanoma. If you’ve had extreme sunburns before, you should be vigilant about screening for melanomas. Similarly, if you have lots of existing moles, you should regularly check them for changes (although having many moles does not necessarily mean they are cancerous).
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Melanoma treatment with Dr. Ness begins with determining whether the area is cancerous or not. This means looking at the pigment and makeup of the mole to decide whether it is abnormal. If it appears cancerous, then a biopsy is sometimes performed, meaning a piece of it is removed and tested in a lab. This test can determine whether any cancerous activity is occurring and how deeply it has reached in the skin. There are different stages that are categorized according to its depth and the possible places it has spread. It most commonly spreads to lymph nodes first, meaning an additional biopsy may be required if Dr. Ness believes it has begun spreading.
Once these things have been determined, you can begin looking at your treatment options. The most common treatments for melanomas include surgical excision where the affected area is removed through an incision. Melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas can require a more extensive treatment plan, and Dr. Ness can recommend your options.
Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen is the best way to prevent melanoma from developing over the course of your life. This should be applied every time you go outside for long periods of time and reapplied every few hours. You should pair sunscreen with protective clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and lip balm that contains SPF. You should also avoid tanning beds or sun lamps.
Another important step is regularly screening yourself at home. You should check your skin from head to toe and keep track of any moles and their appearance. Any changes can indicate that cancerous activity has begun. Dr. Ness recommends you keep in mind the ABCDE’s of melanoma when it comes to changes:
- Asymmetry: the mole is not evenly-shaped or -colored
- Border: the mole is irregularly-shaped and has a border that is uneven or poorly-defined
- Color: the mole doesn’t have a uniform color and has shades of uncommon colors like blue, red, or white
- Diameter: the mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser (although cancerous ones can be smaller)
- Evolving: the mole changes with any of the above indicators over time
Melanomas don’t necessarily show all of these signs, but more commonly show one or two. It’s important to immediately see Dr. Ness if you notice any of these factors so that it can be treated early.
Melanoma can be treated effectively when you act quickly. Dr. Ness can perform a professional screening for any problem areas and recommend a treatment plan for your skin and circumstances. To schedule a consultation, contact Fargo Dermatology by calling or filling out our online form.