Risk Factors/Signs and Symptoms

Research is increasing regarding what we know about Melanoma. Following are common risk factors for the disease:

Dysplastic Nevi - Dysplastic nevi are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. Dysplastic nevi are common, and many people have a few of these abnormal moles.

More Than 50 Ordinary Moles - Having many moles increases the risk of developing melanoma

Fair Skin - Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily (these people also usually have red or blond hair and blue eyes) than in people with dark skin.

Family History - Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor.

Personal History - Patients who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of a second melanoma.

Severe Sunburns - People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise that parents protect children’s skin from the sun. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation - This type of cancer is more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and increase the risk of melanoma.

Weakened Immune System - People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplantation, or by HIV are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Signs and Symptoms

Melanomas in an early stage may be found when an existing mole changes slightly, for example, when a new black area forms. Newly formed fine scales and itching in a mole also are common symptoms of early melanoma. In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change.

Melanomas may feel different from regular moles. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed. But melanomas usually do not cause pain.

There are four key changes to note when looking at a changing mole.

Asymmetry- The shape of one half does not match the other.

Border - The edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.

Color - The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen.

Diameter - There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).

It is best to perform a skin exam once a month and consult your doctor if you feel that a mole has developed an abnormality.

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