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Melanoma Skin Cancer – Signs & Symptoms

Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and SA has one of the highest monitored ultra violet (UV) levels in the world, resulting in one of the highest skin cancer rates globally.

“South Africa has the 2nd highest incidence of skin cancer in the world after Australia, and in particular one of the highest incidences of melanoma worldwide, as far as Caucasians are concerned. At least 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers, and a approximately 1 500 are diagnosed with melanoma.”

Melanoma is a tumour of melanin-forming cells, especially a malignant tumour associated with skin cancer.

Early signs of Melanoma: Changes to the shape or color of existing moles or, in the case of nodular melanoma, the appearance of a new lump anywhere on the skin. At later stages, the mole may itch, ulcerate or bleed. Early signs of melanoma are summarized by the mnemonic “ABCDE”.

Skin Cancer Types

The two main categories of skin cancer are melanoma, and non-melanoma.

These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours. These tumours originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis.

Melanomas often resemble moles. Some melanomas develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-coloured, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

Melanoma is a malignant skin cancer which arises from the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells. From the skin it can spread to the lymph glands or via the bloodstream to other organs such as the liver, lungs and bones (metastases). This is invariably fatal. It is therefore imperative to diagnose and treat melanoma as early as possible.

The ABCDE of Malignant Melanoma Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless — but not always. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma.

The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. That is why it is so important to get to know one’s skin very well and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body.

The ABCDE Rule

A = Asymmetry: Melanomas are often asymmetrical, whereas moles are generally symmetrical.

B = Border irregularities: Melanomas frequently have irregular, uneven borders with scalloped edging. Benign moles usually have smooth, even borders.

C = Colour variation: Common moles are usually a single shade or shades of brown and black. Melanomas are often multi-coloured, with multiple shades of brown, black, red, white, grey or blue.

D = Diameter: Benign moles are usually (but not always) less than 6mm in diameter, whereas melanomas tend to be larger.

E = Evolving: a lesion that is changing in size, shape, or color or a new lesion

Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and if you see one or more, make an appointment with your general practitioner or dermatologist immediately.


CANSA-SunSmart-2018-19-Infographics-English-4  - Melanoma Skin Cancer
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