Melanoma: What You Need to Know


Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the pigment cells (melanocytes) that give the skin its color. While less common than other skin cancers, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma is far more serious.

Unlike many other forms of cancer, however, melanoma can usually be seen on the skin. Usually, the cancer shows up as an unusual mole or pigmentation that appears suddenly or changes shape. This can make it easy to identify in its early stages, when it can often be treated successfully and even cured. Left untreated, however, melanoma can potentially spread to distant areas of the body, including the lungs, bones, liver, and brain. After cancer spreads, it can be very difficult to treat.

In essence, melanoma develops when skin cells sustain damage that triggers cellular mutations and rapid growth. Oftentimes, this damage results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or artificial sources, such as indoor tanning devices. Additionally, melanoma runs in some families such that the genetic changes that increase its risk are passed from one generation to the next.

While no one is ever completely risk free, there are several ways to reduce the likelihood of developing melanoma. These include:

  • Limiting your exposure to sunlight – Before going outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to all exposed skin, and reapply every two hours (as well as after swimming or sweating). Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat, and seek shade whenever possible.
  • Avoiding indoor tanning devices – Never use tanning beds, booths, or lamps.
  • Regularly examining your skin – Get to know your skin and its unique pattern of moles, birthmarks, freckles, and coloration. If you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or number of spots on your skin, see a physician for a diagnosis right away.
  • Remembering the acronym ABCD – Common early signs of melanoma include mole (A) asymmetry, (B) border irregularities, (C) color changes, and (D) diameters larger than .25 inches across.

It’s important for everyone to learn to identify possible signs of melanoma and to promptly bring any unusual skin changes to the attention of a medical professional.

If you’d like to learn more and find out how to reduce your skin cancer risk, you are welcome to talk with the medical professionals at South Tampa Immediate Care. Our office is conveniently located on 602 South Howard Avenue in South Tampa.