Melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer, develops when something goes wrong in the DNA of the cells that give color to your skin (melanocytes). You may know that having fair skin, light eyes, and a history of sun damage increase your chances of getting melanoma.
But at Manhattan Dermatology with offices in Murray Hill and Midtown East in New York City, our board-certified dermatologists have found that many patients don’t know some key information about this deadly disease.
We’ve created this important guide outlining some of the top facts people don’t realize about melanoma. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about this deadly skin cancer, then schedule a skin check to stay on top of your health.
People of all skin tones and colors get melanoma
If you have fair skin and light eyes, you have a higher risk of developing all skin cancers, including melanoma. But having darker skin doesn’t mean you won’t get melanoma.
In fact, people of all skin tones and colors get skin cancer, even if they’ve never been sunburned. Unfortunately, it’s often diagnosed in later stages in these cases, making it more difficult to treat.
If you have darker skin, check yourself from head to toe regularly and look for any dark spots or patches of darker skin that have changed in some way. Also, look for patches of skin that feel dry or rough or that won’t heal.
Often, melanoma in people of color develops around or under toenails or fingernails, or in places like the bottoms of the feet, the groin, the lower legs, and the buttocks. It can also develop inside your mouth and eyes.
Melanoma isn’t always a mole
Many people think of moles that grow in unusual ways when it comes to skin cancer. And it’s true that moles that change in size, shape, or color or new moles can be melanoma.
But most (70%) of melanomas don’t start as a mole. Most of the time, melanoma develops on normal skin without moles.
Melanoma may look like a bruise on your skin, a dark black or brown spot, but it can also appear as pink bumps or spots or have no color at all.
The bottom line? If you notice any area of skin that’s new or any spot or mark with a different color, texture, shape, or border, or that’s changed in some way, bring it to the attention of your provider as soon as possible.
You can get melanoma in unusual places
Melanoma starts in your skin, and it’s often found in areas that get exposed to the sun. But this isn’t always true. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, including places you might not think to check for skin cancer, such as your:
- Fingernail beds
- Toenail beds
- Soles of your feet
- Between your toes or fingers
- Behind or inside your ears
- Inside your mouth
- In your internal organs and systems
Getting a regular skin check by your dermatologist is the best way to spot melanoma in any place on your body.
Not all melanoma is related to sun damage
Many times, melanoma is linked to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Researchers believe that UV light damages the DNA in the cells that produce pigment (melanin).
But not every melanoma is related to sun damage. In fact, about 30% of cases occur in people with minimal sun exposure or no history of sun damage.
Recent research suggests that having a family history of melanoma increases your risk more (up to 3 times higher) than having a history of sun damage. Having multiple family members with a history of melanoma further increases your risk.
It’s highly treatable when caught early
Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most deadly. It spreads quickly, and once it reaches your lymph system (metastasis) it can be very difficult to treat.
But it’s not all bad news. The earlier your melanoma is caught and diagnosed, the better your chances of survival. In fact, the five-year survival rate for people with melanoma that’s detected and treated before it spreads is 99%.
By getting a skin cancer screening at least once a year with a trained dermatologist, like our team members at Manhattan Dermatology, you can help ensure that any melanoma or other skin cancers you develop are detected early for the most effective treatment.
Treatment for melanoma generally involves surgical removal of the cancer. For more advanced melanoma, you may also need chemotherapy or other treatments.
Get more information about melanoma or set up a skin cancer screening by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at Manhattan Dermatology in the Murray Hill or Midtown East sections of Manhattan, New York City.