Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is among the most common cancers in both women and men in the United States, with cases doubling from 1982 to 2011. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), more than 100,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2021 alone.
How to catch a lesion
Though most people can keep tabs on moles on their arms or legs, skin cancer can also grow in the hard-to-see areas of the body you’re likely not checking.
“Even though people may know melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and it is connected with sun exposure (UV radiation), areas of the body rarely exposed to the sun are still at risk,” said Konstantinos Chouliaras, MD, a board-certified surgical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Examples of these hidden areas include:
- Soles of the feet
- Nail beds
“When a melanoma occurs in one of these areas, there can be significant delays in recognizing it due to the low level of suspicion and unique location of such a lesion,” Dr. Chouliaras said. “It can also develop in other areas besides the skin, such as mucosal surfaces or in the eye (uveal melanoma). Mucosal melanoma can affect the inner lining of the mouth, throat, vagina or even the inner surface of the intestine or urinary tract system.”
This deadly cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color. It’s crucial to take every opportunity to inspect your skin and identify lesions that may be changing. Moles with any of the characteristics below should be a red flag to seek advice from your dermatologist or primary care physician:
- Irregular shape
- Poorly defined border
- Changing color (turns dark brown or black)
- Increasing size
- Bleeding or itching
The AAD encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of cancer.
“About half of melanomas are self-detected. Unfortunately, there are no screening tests to detect non-skin melanomas, like those in the eye, mouth or elsewhere,” Dr. Chouliaras said.
Get a consult
Patients with a family or personal history of melanoma, who have more than 50 moles, or are concerned about spots that are changing should consult with a dermatologist, Dr. Chouliaras said.
“It’s important to recognize the first signs and seek medical advice. Melanoma is highly curable in the beginning stages. A prompt consultation with a dermatologist is the most important step to rule out a potentially malignant lesion, allowing for earlier treatment and higher chances for a cure.”
If you have questions about a suspicious spot on your skin, talk to your doctor about what to do next. To find the right primary care doctor for you, fill out the appointment request form or call 904.202.4YOU. For a cancer specialist, visit BaptistMDAnderson.com.