The Dangers Of Summer – Melanoma of the skin
Written By: Dr Peter Shelton Bsc Hons
“Hey, what’s that on your foot? Is it a mole?”
If you have had someone say this to you at some point, or even if you have wondered what it is yourself you are not alone. Let me just ask you now PLEASE don’t just pass this off as something that will sort itself out – it won’t.
Suspicious looking areas on your skin, also known as lesions, can be one of several things and may need a few tests or opinions to find the underlying cause.
Melanoma is a common cancer of the skin which usually occurs on the parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun. The scary thing is that rare melanomas can occur on parts of the skin or body that have never been exposed to the sun such as the nervous system, eye and mucous membrane (lining of the mouth and digestive tract), as well as under the feet and nails. According to Cancer Council Australia Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, which along with New Zealand has the world’s highest incidence rate for melanomas.
The risk of melanoma can be increased with exposure to UV particularly with episodes of sunburn and especially during childhood, so make sure you apply sunscreen daily on your children even if it looks a little overcast.
Melanoma risk is amplified for people who have:
- Increased numbers of unusual moles.
- Depressed immune systems.
- A family history of melanoma in a first degree relative
- Fair skin with a tendency to burn rather than tan, freckles, light eye colour, light or red hair colour
- Had a previous melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by the age of 85 is 1 in 14 for men compared to 1 in 24 for women. In 2010, 11,405 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Australia, which accounted for nearly 1 in 10 cancer diagnoses.
The specific types of melanoma that refer to to the toenail or fingernail alone are called melanonychia and subungual melanoma.
Signs & Symptoms of melanoma include:
- A mole or lesion that is asymmetrical or has an irregular border
- A mole or lesion that is growing or enlarging.
- A mole or lesion with abnormal colouring or blotchiness.
- Appearance of a new mole, or black/brown ‘spot’
- Itchy and bleeding, the mole may become itchy or bleed at times.
All such findings are consistent with a Melanoma but are not always 100% positive. There are numerous types of melanoma and once again do not assume the abnormal spot on your skin is just nothing to worry about.
People with a high risk of melanoma will be taught to check their skin routinely for irregular or changing lesions, and have annual checks with their GP or Skin specialist. I believe it’s worth getting checked out annually even if you are not in the high risk category. As they say better safe than sorry!
If your doctor suspects a melanoma, a biopsy may be undertaken to find out exactly what it is and this may be done by your GP or you could be referred to a skin specialist.
So if you have noticed a weird or funny looking spot or area on your foot/ankle/lower leg, or anywhere on your body for that matter, don’t put off seeking evaluation any longer. Make an appointment with your GP now!
- Understanding Melanoma, Cancer Council Australia © 2015. Last medical review of source booklet, January 2015.
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