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Edmonton's Cosmetic Surgery Clinic

Question:

I am back from my summer holidays and I had a great time. When I was on the beach, one of my friends noticed a "funny" mole on my back. I am worried. I had a few sunburns in my youth. Can this mole be dangerous?

Answer:

Melanoma can kill you and yet it is one of the easiest cancers to detect and treat. This fact provides us with a lot of great news. Yes, melanoma can kill but when detected early, it can be treated with great success. It is a fact that the incidence of melanoma is rising and more younger people are affected than ever before. In general, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world and melanoma is one of the most dangerous kinds of skin cancers that we are faced with. The other common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The latter cancers will be reviewed in the next few articles.


What does melanoma look like? 

Melanoma can either start as a new, brown or black spot on the skin or it can begin as a change in the shape or colour of an already present mole or coloured spot. Although most melanomas tend to be dark in colour (browns, blacks and dark blues), some have a mixture of colours including brown, black, red, blue and white. These growths can change in the size, shape and colour. It is this change that is one of the strongest clues that the mole or spot needs to be examined.

What causes melanoma?

Although the full answer still has not been fully unravelled, we know that excessive sun exposure plays a leading role in the development of melanoma. In particular, blistering sunburns especially in childhood are thought to play an important role. Moreover, recent research shows that sunburns at any time during life can also increase the risk. It is these blistering sunburns that significantly increase the risk of development of melanoma. People who had blistering sunburns in the past should be especially vigilant for any changing or newly developing moles or spots.


Who is at risk of developing melanoma?

Every person is at risk of developing melanoma but fair skinned people who have sun-sensitive skin that burns rather than tans are more likely to get it especially those of us with freckles and red as well as blond hair and those with blue or green eyes. Patients with close family history of melanoma and those with many moles (more than 50), or moles with an unusual colour or shape, or with large moles, are also at an increased risk.


Where does it often appear? It appears most commonly on the backs of men and legs of women. However, it can appear anywhere on the skin surface. While less common in darker skinned people, melanoma usually appears on the palms of hands, soles of feet and nail beds in these people.

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The information provided on this website is for Canadian patients only and is meant for information and education that is based on experience and research.

 

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