Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and can be fatal. When caught early, treatment is highly successful. It is critical to have a dermatologist check your moles annually, especially if you live near the beach, are consistently exposed to the sun, or if it runs in the family.  Melanoma may be caused by genetic factors and not always by the sun.

If there is a history of melanoma or other skin cancer in your family or if you’ve had precancerous or cancerous moles removed in the past, you should get a skin exam every six months or as recommended by your dermatologist.

What are the symptoms?

A sore that doesn’t heal; a mole that changes color, size, or shape; unusual bumps or markings or a change in skin color or texture; any spot, mole, or freckle that looks different from the other markings on your body; a mole that is asymmetrical (the edges wouldn’t line up if it were folded in half); a mole with ragged or irregular borders, or borders that seem to change or grow; a mole that is not the same color throughout; an extremely dark, almost black mole—particularly on a person with light skin; a spot that is larger than a pencil eraser (although some cancerous spots will be much smaller); redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole; a mole that suddenly becomes itchy, tender, or painful; a mole that looks “scabby” or bleeds and oozes.

Melanoma may appear in unexpected places—between your fingers, on the soles of your feet or beneath fingernails. Melanoma could also appear as a growth or dark spot beneath your nail. It could appear anywhere on your body, regardless of whether or not that area has been directly exposed to the sun.

What is the treatment?

If you have a “suspicious” spot or mole, your dermatology practitioner will biopsy all or part of the area and send it to a lab to find out if it is cancerous or not. If the location is precancerous, your dermatologist or a surgeon will surgically remove the spot.  Most small spots can be performed in an office setting as outpatient surgery. However, some larger areas may require a more in depth procedure.  If your dermatologist thinks the cancer is more advanced, you will also be referred to an oncologist for further treatment.

Prevention Methods

Practice safety in the sun!  Our dermatologists recommend avoiding direct sun when it’s rays are at their peak, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you are in the sun, wear protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, and a high spf mineral sunscreen. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after water. Never go to tanning beds. Keep infants out of the sun altogether.

Conduct a self skin exam on a monthly basis to track any abnormal changes and be sure to schedule your annual skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist. You’ll need a professional skin exam every six months if you have a history of skin cancer or if you develop a new spot on your skin.

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