Melanoma and your health

What should you know about Melanomas?

Prognosis is all about depth – the “thicker” in the skin the Melanoma is, the more chance it has spread.

  • Flat superficial Melanomas (< 1 mm thick on biopsy) have virtually a 100% cure rate and represent about 3 in 4 Melanomas
  • Nodular Melanoma – are aggressive tumours that burrow vertically, rapidly, and have a high propensity to spread – and a worse prognosis

Most people have never heard of Nodular Melanomas – yet they make up about 20% of all Melanomas, are aggressive and need to be caught early. You need some knowledge of this one.

What does Nodular Melanoma look like?

A Melanoma nodule looks like a lump of new skin tissue that can be black, brown, even red or with no pigment.

The ABCDE System offers a good way to recognise Melanomas.

  • A is for ASYMMETRY: One-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for BORDER irregularity: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C is for COLOUR variegation: The colour is not the same all over but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.
  • D is for DIAMETER: The area is larger than 6 millimetres (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.
  • E is for EVOLVING: Changes in size, shape, colour, elevation or another trait such as itching, bleeding or crusting.

The varying pigmentation, border and large size etc. often make these lesions look like “ugly ducklings”. They just look different to the pigmented skin lesions around them.

Rules of Thumb

If a new skin lesion doesn’t disappear within a month or so (i.e. a pimple, rash etc.) then get it checked.

If it’s a raised lesion (bumpy to feel), and new (even if not brown or black), be more concerned.

Melanoma: did you know?

  • Australia has the highest incidence of Melanoma in the world – and Melanoma rates have doubled in the 20 years from 1986-2006.
  • Melanoma is the third most common form of cancer in Australian men and women (10% of all cancers).
  • More than 12,500 new cases of Melanoma are diagnosed in Australia every year – 10% die!
  • Melanoma makes up only 2.3% of all skin cancers but is responsible for 75% of skin cancer deaths.
  • 1 in 17 Australians will be diagnosed with Melanoma before age 85.
  • Compared to women, men are more than 2.5 times likely to die from Melanoma.

Tales from the Practice

I thought I would share a couple of real stories.

  • The spouse of a friend of mine had a red skin nodule on the chest that appeared. Thinking that it was due to irritation from a seat belt overlying the nodule, it was dismissed for a couple of months. By the time the diagnosis of malignant Melanoma was made, it had spread to the lymph glands.
  • A few months ago I saw a nasty looking black skin lesion on a patients arm. How long had it been there? Three months! Diagnosis? Melanoma! Luckily still superficial, and cured once it was given the attention it deserved.

When was your last skin and health check?

To learn more ….

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