Malignant Melanoma is in a class by itself. Although far more rare than the other skin cancers, it is also far more dangerous, and is the most common cause of “death by skin cancer.” It is important to realize, however, that the focus on early recognition and treatment now results in an overall cure rate for Malignant Melanoma of approximately 85%.
Malignant Melanoma occurs in different locations than the Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas. The most common area is the upper back and, in women, the lower legs. These tend to be the areas of occasional severe sunburn as opposed to areas suffering from long-term sun exposure.
Malignant Melanoma is a tumor of the melanocytes (the cells in skin responsible for color and tanning). It therefore usually shows as a dark spot in the skin. Distinguishing it from the hundreds of other skin spots on a person’s body requires some education, but fortunately, it is as easy as learning the alphabet:
In an attempt to educate the public about potentially dangerous pigmented lesions, the “ABCDE System” of instruction was developed and is widely used today. The system emphasizes the following points:
One half does not match the other half.
The edges are ragged, notched, and poorly defined.
The color varies greatly. Shades of brown and black are mixed with blue, red, and white regions.
Probably the least specific of the findings (all melanomas start small), a lesion larger than the others can be suspicious.
This requires ongoing observation to assess: Has the spot darkened or enlarged over a short period of time (doubled in size in three months)?