20 to 30 percent of melanomas develop in existing moles and go unnoticed. 70 to 80 percent of melanomas arise on seemingly normal skin, and are shrugged off as beauty spots.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer – it is not that common but it is the more dangerous type. Like all skin cancers, it develops due the abnormal growth and multiplication of skin cells. In the case of Melanoma, the cancer originates in the melanin (skin pigment) producing cells called the melanocytes. The danger arises from the fact that it often goes undetected until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, making it extremely difficult to treat. However, if you are in tune with your body and watch out for Red Flags that point towards cancers, then you can catch the disease in its early stages and nip it at the bud.



Anyone can acquire Melanoma. How the melocytes turn cancerous, and what are the triggers? In spite of extensive research there is no real answer. From family medical history to sun exposure or other environment causes, it could be anything. However, in fair-skinned people melanoma develops at spots exposed to UV radiation (sun exposure) and in the case of dark-skinned people, melanoma develops in regions of their skin that are hidden from sunlight. For a clearer picture one must understand that there are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Of these it’s eumelanin that protects the skin from harmful radiation, Fair-skinned people have more pheomelanin, while dark-skinned individuals have more eumelanin – this puts the former group of people more at risk of melanoma.



As vital as it is to detect Melanoma at an early stage to prevent spread of the cancer, it is very difficult to detect. One must examine his/her body regularly to make sure that there are no changes/ discolouration of the skin. Skin changes are vital indicators of skin cancer, hence it is important to be aware of your body and even the smallest changes in appearance of your skin. Some symptoms to be wary of are:


  • – appearance of a new spot or mole
  • – a change in the color, shape, or size of an existing mole
  • – a sore/lesion that heals and then recurs
  • – a painful, itchy, or tender sore/spot
  • – a flat, rough, dry, or scaly red spot
  • – a skin bump that is shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale
  • – a firm, red lump that bleeds or looks ulcerated or crusty



It is not easy detecting a melanoma because 20 to 30 percent of melanomas develop in existing moles and go unnoticed. 70 to 80 percent of melanomas arise on seemingly normal skin, and are shrugged off as beauty spots.


AMELANOTIC MELANOMAS do not have melanin and hence can be pinkish, reddish, white or even clear and colorless, which makes it hard to spot them at all.


ACRAL LENTIGINOUS MELANOMA is more common in dark skinned people and often appears under the fingernails or toenails, on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, where they are harder to spot in the early stages.


LENTIGO MALIGNA is more common among older people. It grows close to the skin surface at first before spreading further. It originates on sun-damaged skin on the face, ears, arms or upper torso and may appear as a flat or slightly raised, blotchy patch with uneven borders.


NODULAR MELANOMA is the most aggressive type of melanoma. It grows deeper into the skin and more rapidly than other types. It occurs on the torso, legs and arms, as well as the scalp in older men. Nodular melanoma appears as a bump on the skin that is either blue-black in color or pinkish.




The ABCDEs of Moles can help you tell the difference between a normal mole and one that needs to get checked by a doctor.

  • A stands for ASYMMETRY.

    Common moles are oval or round shaped. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical which means if you draw a line down the center, both halves will not mirror each other in shape or size.

  • B stands for BORDER.

    This refers to the outer edges of the mole. Melanomas tend to be uneven or notched, unlike the smoother edges of a normal mole.

  • C stands for COLOR.

    A melanoma may have different shades of brown or black. In some cases, as it grows, one may notice red, white or blue spots in it as well.

  • D stands for DIAMETER

    If the mole grows larger than 6 millimetres getting a doctor to check it is advisable.

  • E stands for EVOLVING

    Besides change in colour, shape, size of the mole, if it begins to itchy or bleed – these may also be considered as warning signs.

Having a family history of Melanoma puts you at higher risk for the disease. However, steering away from exposure to UV radiation by keeping out of harsh sunlight can help prevent developing Melanoma. Using a sun-screen while outdoors and generally protecting the skin from sun-damage can prevent melanoma. But the most important way to keep the disease at bay is by being aware of changes in your skin, and getting unusual moles/ sores checked by a doctor.


Dr.Bhavani Kirubakaran is a Dermatologist specialist
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