The American Academy of Dermatology has designated May as Melanoma Awareness Month to educate the public about the most common type of skin cancer in the United States. About 75,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma in the United States each year. Risk factors for a melanoma diagnosis include:
- Being male
- Being over age 50
- Suffering from Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a rare inherited condition affecting the skin's ability to repair damage to DNA
- Suffering from any condition that weakens the immune system
- Having many moles or birthmarks
- Having fair skin and light hair
- Having a family history of skin cancer
- Frequently using indoor tanning beds
- Spending long periods of time outdoors without sunscreen
Signs of Melanoma
The most common signs of melanoma can be remembered with the ABCDE rule:
- A is for Asymmetry. Normal birthmarks or moles should be symmetrical. If one half doesn't match the other, ask your doctor to check it out.
- B is for Border. A mole or birthmark with edges that are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred could be melanoma.
- C is for Color. Healthy moles or birthmarks are typically the same color all over. If the area is multiple shades of brown or black or has patches of red, pink, blue, or white, ask your doctor to take a closer look.
- D is for Diameter. Any newly discovered spot larger than one-quarter inch across should be evaluated. This is about the width of a pencil eraser, although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving. As an adult, your moles and birthmarks shouldn't be changing in appearance. If you notice differences in size, shape, or color, further evaluation is needed.
Although the ABCDE rule is a very useful way to monitor changes in your skin, it's important to remember that not all melanomas exhibit these symptoms. Additional warning signs that warrant a doctor's visit include:
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole
- Itching, tenderness, or pain
- Bleeding, scaliness, or oozing near the surface of a mole or birthmark
- Sores that won't heal in a timely manner
- Pigment from the border of a mole or birthmark spreading into the surrounding skin
Melanoma can be diagnosed in several different ways. Doctors typically begin by taking a medical history to assess risk factors. A physical examination of the area is then performed to look for any signs that might indicate the need for a referral to a dermatologist.
If the dermatologist thinks the area is suspicious, a skin biopsy will be conducted. This involves removing the suspicious area and looking at it under a microscope. The procedure will leave a small scar but is not painful.
Imaging tests using x-rays, magnetic fields, or radioactive substances may be ordered if there is reason to believe the melanoma has spread. However, these tests are not needed for early stage melanomas.
Treatment for melanoma depends on how early the condition was diagnosed. Early stage melanomas that have not spread can be surgically removed. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or immunotherapy might be used. Stage III and Stage IV patients may also be eligible for clinical trials of experimental treatments.
Receiving a melanoma diagnosis can be frightening, but the good news is that this is one of the most treatable types of cancers. In the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is about 97%, and the 10-year survival rate is 95%. Even later stage melanomas have survival rates exceeding 50%.
After treatment, it's important that melanoma survivors visit a doctor regularly to have their condition carefully monitored. Melanoma increases a patient's risk of being diagnosed with a second skin cancer as well as breast, prostate, kidney, thyroid, soft tissue, or salivary gland cancer.
Malpractice Suits Involving a Delayed Melanoma Diagnosis
Since early diagnosis is vital in successfully treating melanoma, a patient may have a valid malpractice claim if his healthcare provider missed the warning signs or failed to provide the proper referral to a dermatologist. To learn more about pursing a medical malpractice claim, please contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.