Malignant melanoma is a skin cancer which occurs as a result of cancerous growth of melanocytes. These are cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines the skin color. In normal conditions, melanocytes reproduce regularly, but in case of DNA damage, cells begin to reproduce uncontrollably and that is why a tumor appears. The causes of DNA damage may be genetic but environmental factors such as exposure to UV radiation may be the reason as well.
Melanoma often develops from an existing nevus (moles) of the skin, although in rare cases may firstly occur in the eye. It is one of the most serious cancers because it can spread to other organs, can cause serious health disorders that are difficult to treat and often ends in death. Early detection of melanoma is vital, because in most cases the patient can be saved with minor surgery.
In order to be prevented and early detected, beside regular visits to a dermatologist, it is recommended to check your skin by yourself once a month.
ABCDE rule will help you to make a better distinction between benign nevus and nevus that can cause malignant melanoma.
- A (Asymmetry)
Moles that are not suspicious in most cases are symmetrical. This means that (Figure 1) if you drag an imaginary line that runs through the middle of the benign nevus, you’ll get two almost identical halves.
In case the halves are asymmetrical (Figure 2), it might be melanoma.
- B (Borders)
Benign nevus is characterized by well-defined and regular edges (Figure 1), unlike the suspicious mole which has irregular, jagged, broken edges that are undefined, so often the boundary between the mole and surrounding skin is unclear (Figure 2).
- C (Color)
Benign mole usually has a uniform pigment pattern, which means they have same color that is evenly distributed (Figure 1).
Moles that have multiple colors (black, various shades of brown, red, dark blue, gray, traces of white color) or are in one color that is uneven, are suspicious. (Figure 2 and 3).
- D (Diameter)
Although the mole does not possess the above mentioned characteristics (asymmetry, border changes and color), if it has a diameter larger than 6 mm, you will need to consult a dermatologist.
Malignant melanoma is usually with larger dimensions, although in rare cases can occur in moles smaller than 6 mm.
- E (Evolution)
Any changes in the mole in terms of color, shape or size, which are accompanied by itching, increased sensitivity or bleeding, should be taken seriously and a dermatologist should be consulted.
Warning: ABCDE rule is not a substitute for regular dermatological controls, but can be quite helpful for early detection of malignant melanoma. Therefore, regularly visit your dermatologist, and if you notice any suspicious change immediately consult your doctor!