The word melanoma comes from the Greek word for “black,” signifying that these tumors develop from melanocytes. Melanocytes are skin cells which contain the pigment melanin, responsible for the browning of our skin when exposed to sunlight. In medicine, the term “malignant” is used for tumors which are highly lethal, damaging surrounding healthy tissue and capable of producing secondary growths (metastases).
Severe sunburns, with pronounced redness, pain and vesicle formation, are a risk factor for developing malignant melanomas. Children who experience these burns are strongly at risk for these tumors later in life. Those with fair skin and light hair color (blond or red hair) are particularly vulnerable. Skin with freckles and moles is particularly vulnerable to sun damage.
Nevi (single = nevus), also known as birthmarks or moles, are benign cells that are closely related to melanocytes. These cell clusters appear either round or oval, with clearly formed borders. They are often uniformly brown in color.
It is important to recognize malignant melanomas as early as possible, when there are higher chances for recovery. Good chances of recovery exist for lesions which are flat or thin, and for those without infiltration into deeper skin layers (>97% recovery during initial stages).
Detecting Suspicious Moles
To determine how “suspicious” a mole may be, doctors use the “ABCDE-Rule” to describe malignant tumors
A = Asymmetry
The shape of the skin alteration is asymmetrical or uneven.
B = Border
The skin alteration has no sharp or clearly defined borders, but instead uneven, scalloped edges.
C = Color
The skin alteration has an uneven pigmentation, with different colors like brown, black, white, grey and red or parts which are lighter or darker.
D = Diameter
The skin alteration has increased in size.
E = Evolving
The skin alteration is raised or lowered from the surrounding skin.