Identifying melanoma at its early stages is a crucial step towards a successful treatment process. As such, you should always be on the lookout for anything suspicious on your skin; this could be moles, bruises, reddening, or persistent irritations. While some of these signs are largely normal, they carry a significant risk of melanoma. Therefore, you should consult a dermatologist immediately you notice these weird changes. In this article, we will help you fathom the early signs of the condition, which you should not take for granted. This will be backed up by images to ensure that you get a clear image of when to take an action. Read on to learn more!
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What are the Signs of Melanoma?
Recognizing the signs of melanoma as early as you can is necessary since it gives your doctor an opportunity to limit its spread to other organs. If you fail to identify it at an early stage, its treatment becomes highly complicated which makes full recovery from the condition relatively uncertain.
Melanoma condition starts from the melanocytes (skin cells). As such, the early melanoma symptoms are highly likely to be localized on the skin. To enable you to identify the changes, you should ensure that you examine your skin on a daily basis when taking a shower. For the hard to see areas, you should always use a mirror to ensure that you entirely understand the state of your skin.
While melanoma primarily affects the skin, it can spread to the eyes and the nails. As such, you should also be wary of weird changes that occur on these body parts. If you realize darkening on the nails or the iris, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek help from a professional dermatologist.
If you do not have a full-length mirror, we recommend that you acquire one to ease your self-examination process. Also, you can purchase a magnifying glass to identify the minor changes in the skin. You should be particularly keen on changes that occur on already existing moles and skin tags. Such changes could be an early sign of melanoma and you should never wish them away!
If you can identify signs of melanoma early enough, the doctors will effectively treat the condition.
As such, you should always be on the lookout for the following signs:
Changes on your mole. The mere occurrence of a mole on your skin is not a matter to stress you out. However, you should be knowledgeable enough to identify when the mole turns from normal into a melanoma risk. You need to observe the mole regularly and if you note any changes in its shape, border appearance, symmetry, color, and size, then you should seek help. You may also notice an abnormal increase in itchiness and bleeding of the mole. All these are early signs that the atypical mole can transform into melanoma.
The recommended method of identifying abnormal changes in the mole is the ABCDE technique:
- Asymmetry. If you place your mirror in the middle of the mole, the image on the other side should be similar to the other half. Any dissimilar results should raise an alarm that the mole could become cancerous.
- Border. The borders of the moles should be regular. If you realize rugged and irregular borders, you should consult the doctor immediately.
- Color. If the mole presents with different color shades, it could be a cancerous mole. Read here for more. Sometimes the mole may change colors suspiciously which you shouldn’t ignore.
- Diameter. The diameter of a normal mole should not exceed 6mm. If you realize an overgrowth, you need to perform some tests to rule out melanoma.
- Evolving. Any abnormal changes including bleeding and itchiness should necessitate a doctor checkup!
- Actinic Keratosis/ Solar Keratosis. These are scaly patches that may develop on your skin after overexposure to sunlight. They are common on the hands, head, and other areas of the skin that are overly exposed to the sunlight. While these are normal, you should never ignore any changes that occur on them. If they are itchy and bleeds, then you should talk to a doctor immediately.
- Check for Chronic Sores. If you’ve had a sore that doesn’t disappear no matter how hard you try, then you should have it checked by a doctor. They may appear on any part of the skin including the leg sole and between the fingers. Sometimes it may show signs of oozing liquid, inflammation, and redness. Even when it appears like it has healed then reappear, never think that that is normal. Seek medical advice before it is too late!
Signs of Vulvar Melanoma
Vulvar melanoma is a condition that affects women. While this is a rare form of melanoma, it is important that you understand the early signs.
Whenever you observe the following, you should visit your gynecologist for the necessary recommendations:
- Changes in color. When you realize changes in the appearance of your vulva, you should communicate it to your doctor who will carry out the necessary tests to rule out melanoma.
- Constant itching. The sensation of irritation all the time can be an early sign of vulvar melanoma. This may be accompanied with severe burning, itching sensation. In extreme cases, you may realize pain in the vulvar region and you should never ignore it!
- Bleeding. For women, discharge is normal since it’s mostly associated with menstruation. However, if you discover abnormal discharges that are not related to your periods, you should immediately seek medical help
- Change in a texture of the vulvar. When the skin of the vulvar becomes white and feels relatively rough, you should take some tests to rule out melanoma!
- An open sore on the vulvar. If you develop an open sore and it lasts for more than one month, it could be an early sign of melanoma. Thus, you should have it checked.
Hutchinson Sign Nail Melanoma
Nail melanoma is relatively uncommon but you should never ignore the early signs that point to its existence. One of the crucial sign that you can be on the lookout for is the Hutchinson’s sign.
This sign present as darkening/ formation of a black pigment on the nail. The pigment then spreads from the nail plate, nail bed, and the matrix to your cuticle, proximal, and lateral nail folds.
When you spot such an occurrence, you should have it checked to rule out subungual melanoma.
As we’ve already discussed, there are various signs that you shouldn’t ignore to prevent regrets after the melanoma has spread to advanced stages!
The most fundamental signs are those that you identify at an early stage before cancer spreads to other parts of your body. As such, regularly check the skin for the melanoma warning signs.
If you have an existing mole, you should check for any changes. If you realize changes in the color, shape, size, and symmetry, ensure that you consult your dermatologist immediately.
Other signs that you should never ignore include:
- Development of painful, itchy, and persistent sores.
- Hard black patches on the skin that won’t go away.
- Black bands on the nail plate that may spread to the cuticle and surrounding tissue.
- Abnormal black spot on the iris coupled with itchy and watery eyes.
- Bruises that oozes clear liquid or blood. Such bruises are itchy and painful and turn out chronic despite treatment efforts.
If you have any of these signs, you should ensure that you consult your dermatologist immediately. Never procrastinate!
When melanoma develops, it’s first localized to the skin. If proper interventions are missing, it spreads to other organs of the body in a process called metastasis.
When metastasis occurs, the body will manifest symptoms associated with the organs that cancer has attacked. For example, you may experience shortness of breath if the melanoma has spread to the lungs!
The most obvious sign of metastasis is general body weakness coupled with unexplained weight loss. This happens since your body mechanisms have been compromised by the melanoma leading to abnormal functioning of the body. This result in lethargy, malaise, chronic fatigue, and persistent headaches.
Also, the lymph nodes are easily attacked by the melanoma. When that happens, you will have enlarged and hard nodes around your neck, groin, and armpits. You will also experience hardened and enlarged tumors on the skin as the cancer progress to its advanced stages.
Other signs that you should not ignore include problems with bowel movement, liver pain (pain originating from the right side of your stomach), and achy bones. The bones may become significantly weak that they start breaking on little pressure that you would previously handle comfortably. We’ve discussed these signs further in our next heading:
5 Signs that Melanoma has Spread
When melanoma spreads to other parts of the body, it is no longer localized. As such, the signs and symptoms of such level of melanoma are not solely localized to the skin. You may observe other changes that are entirely not related to the skin due to the effects that cancer has caused to the specific organs where it has spread to.
Below are 5 signs that the melanoma has spread to other parts of your body:
- Enlarged lymph nodes. When the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, they join together and become matted. If you place your finger on the nodes, you will feel the lumpy and hardened lymph nodes that are extraordinarily large.
- Breathing problem. If you have heard prior signs of melanoma, then you realize you are having difficulties breathing, it is likely cancer has spread. Lungs are among the organs that are attacked by cancer. If that happens, you’ll feel breathless, have persistent chest infections, and persistent coughs that may sometime present with blood.
- Unexplained weight loss. Spreading cancer affects your body metabolism which results in sudden loss of weight. If you have realized this, then you should be evaluated by your doctor immediately. It is important to note that weight loss can be as a result of other factors and not solely cancer, as such, you should have your doctor to rule out melanoma.
- Weak bones. If cancer spreads to the bones, they become too weak that they easily break. If you are in such a situation, then you need to take some tests to rule out cancer.
- General body weakness. When cancer has spread to various parts of your body, it compromises the body’s immune system. This may result in worsening of already existing health conditions and development of new problems. General body weakness, fatigue, a problem with bowel movement, and stomach problems may be a telling sign that the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is a condition that can be treated and full recovery achieved. However, the melanoma treatment process becomes complicated as cancer progresses to its advanced levels. As such, it is necessary that you learn the tips to identify early signs of cancer before it has spread to other organs of the body.
We recommend that you read and implement the strategies that we’ve outlined in this article to identify the melanoma early enough thus avoiding treatment complications. Apply the ABCDE strategy to identify suspicious moles.
If you are unable to frequently self-check the skin, you can have an accountability partner!
You can find further details of Types of moles here.