In January, the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson took to Instagram and shared that she has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, months after her breast cancer diagnosis. The 64-year-old was married to the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, for 10 years before they divorced in 1996. “I believe my experience underlines the importance of checking the size, shape, colour and texture and emergence of new moles that can be a sign of melanoma and urge anyone who is reading this to be diligent,” the ex-wife of Prince Andrew mentioned in the post. Dr Harshit Shah, Associate Consultant-Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital Kalyan, shares his insight on malignant melanoma. 

What Is Malignant Melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that arises when melanocytes, the cells responsible for the skin’s tan or brown colour, undergo uncontrolled growth, says Dr Harshit Shah. “Although melanoma is less prevalent than certain other skin cancers, it poses a greater risk due to its heightened likelihood of spreading to other body parts without early detection and treatment. Timely identification is imperative for successful treatment, as advanced melanoma can be challenging to manage and may metastasize to other organs,” says Dr Shah.

Melanoma can occur on skin and mucosal surfaces with skin being most common. “It may originate anywhere on the skin, presenting as either new moles or emerging from existing moles, often exhibiting irregular borders, uneven colouring, and alterations in size and shape. In individuals with lighter skin tones, these melanomas are more prone to appear on the trunk (chest and back) in men and on the legs in women, with the neck and face being other common sites. Not all nevus or mole are prone to be converted to cancer, only those that develop changes need Biopsy to confirm whether nevus or mole has converted to malignant melanoma,” shares the doctor.

Also Read: Prostrate Cancer: Symptoms, Dos And Don’ts And Risk Factors To Watch Out For

Early Signs Of Malignant Melanoma

The primary indicator of melanoma is the presence of a new skin spot or a spot changing size, shape, or colour. Dr Shah says another significant marker is a spot that stands out in its appearance compared to all other spots on the skin, commonly referred to as the “ugly duckling sign.” To assist in recognising potential early signs, the ABCDE rule serves as a useful guideline. Dr Shah explains:

Asymmetry: The mole or spot exhibits an asymmetrical shape, where one half does not mirror the other half.

Border irregularity: The edges of the mole or nevus lack clear definition and may appear ragged, notched, or blurred.

Colour variations: The nevus may display colour changes, with variations within the nevus or alterations over time. Different hues of brown, black, or other colours may be observed.

Diameter: Melanomas often exceed the diameter of common moles. While size alone is not conclusive, any mole surpassing 6 millimetres in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser) warrants examination.

Elevation: Monitor the nevus for alterations in size, shape, colour, or elevation. Any sudden elevation of nevus above the skin surface with ulceration should be taken into consideration.

Melanoma: Risk Factors Of Skin Cancer

Dr Harshit Shah lists particular risk factors of melanoma:

1. Numerous Moles: While most moles are generally harmless, individuals with a greater number of moles face an increased risk of developing melanoma.

2. Excessive UV Exposure: The risk of melanoma increases with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whether from natural sunlight or artificial sources such as tanning beds.

3. Family History: Individuals with a family history of melanoma are at a heightened risk, as specific genetic factors contribute to susceptibility to skin cancer.

4. Fair Skin: People with fair or light skin are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation, thereby experiencing an elevated risk of developing melanoma.

Melanoma: Dos And Don’ts

Dr Shah shares the following dos and don’ts concerning melanoma:

– Conduct regular self-examinations to monitor your skin for any changes in moles, spots, or overall appearance.

– Protect your skin from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats.

–  Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF regularly, especially when exposed to the sun, and reapply as necessary, particularly after swimming or sweating.

– Seek shade during peak sunlight hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

– Reduce the risk of UV damage by minimising prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during peak hours.

– Steer clear of tanning beds, as they can contribute to harmful UV exposure and increase the likelihood of melanoma.

– Ensure thorough sunscreen application, using a sufficient amount to cover exposed skin, and avoid neglecting this crucial protective measure.


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