How to Spot Melanoma Skin Cancer
- Singer and actress Coleen Nolan, 58, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and precancerous melanoma skin cancer. She admitted she initially dismissed the warning signs mistaking it for eczema.
- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair, and eyes their color.
- You're most likely to find melanoma on sun-exposed areas of skin, like your face, neck, arms, and legs. However, you might also find them in other places like your feet, eyes, and mouth.
- Early detection and treatment of melanoma leads to an extremely high survival rate. Treatments including targeted therapy and immunotherapy give people who are diagnosed a much better chance of living a long and healthy life than ever before.
Singer and actress Coleen Nolan, 58, admits her dismissive attitude nearly cost her a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma which is a type of skin cancer. Nolan has basal cell carcinoma on her shoulder and melanoma on her face she first thought was eczema. Her discovery of skin cancer highlights the importance of regularly checking your body for anything unusual.
"You feel silly going with something that is not hurting you," Nolan said during an interview on the Loose Women television show.Read More
Tests revealed the spots posed cancer risks which got Nolan's attention pretty quickly.
"It was carcinoma and then the melanoma on my face is something that is pre-cancerous melanoma that if I don't sort it then much later on in life, it will turn to skin cancer," Nolan described.
Nolan revealed her family has a history of cancer. She has a sister who is battling an incurable brain tumor. She has another sister who battled stage 3 breast cancer before overcoming the disease. Tragically, she lost a third sister to cancer although the cancer type was not revealed.
Upon her diagnosis, Nolan's doctor gave her a topical cream to treat the cancer.
The "Lemon La Vida Loca" actress is spreading a message for others hearing her story to always be on the lookout for anything unusual and don't be afraid to see your doctor.
"If you've got anything that you're a bit worried about, get it checked," Nolan stressed.
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Melanoma, like Coleen Nolan is treating, is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair, and eyes their color. In melanoma, the cells change in a way that makes them able to spread to other organs.
Changes to a mole you've had for a while or a new growth on your skin could be signs of melanoma, according to SurvivorNet's experts. You'll want to keep an eye on them and let your doctor know about any changes you notice.
You're most likely to find melanoma on sun-exposed areas of skin, like your face, neck, arms, and legs. Surprisingly, you might also find them in other places as well, like:
- The palms of your hands or soles of your feet
- On your eyes or mouth
- Under your nails
SurvivorNet experts recommend avoiding unprotected sun exposure because ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to melanoma. Tanning beds pose ultraviolet radiation risks for skin cancer and should be avoided. Many dermatologists recommend using spray tans to reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer.
WATCH: How do perform a skin check using the ABCDEs?
What Are the Symptoms of Melanoma?
The most important thing to look out for when it comes to finding melanoma is a new spot on your skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color, SurvivorNet's medical experts say.
When you check your skin, use the acronym ABCDE as your guide:
- Asymmetrical moles: If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?
- Borders: Is the mole irregular or jagged?
- Colors: Are there multiple distinct colors in the mole?
- Diameter: Is the mole larger than 6 millimeters (mm), about the size of a pencil head eraser?
- Evolution: Has the mole's color, shape, or size changed over time?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, our experts say it's time to see your dermatologist for a skin check.
While Nolan has begun treating her pre-cancerous melanoma with a topical cream, she said there's still a possibility of surgery down the road.
If you're diagnosed with melanoma, there's a good chance surgery is going to be the treatment your doctor recommends. In the early stages of the disease, removing the cancer usually leads to a cure.
For an early-stage melanoma that is close to the skin surface, Mohs surgery might be an option. This technique removes skin cancer, layer by layer until all the cancer is gone.
Stage 1 melanoma surgery consists of simple, in-office removal of the cancerous cells by a dermatologist. If the cancer is thicker, your surgeon will remove it through a technique called wide excision surgery.
Stage 2 and stage 3 melanoma surgeries are performed by surgeons or surgical oncologists, not dermatologists. You may also have a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see if the melanoma has spread to the first lymph node where it's most likely to travel. If your cancer has reached this first lymph node, it may have spread to other neighboring lymph nodes and organs.
After surgery, the removed tissue and lymph nodes are examined to measure the melanoma and find out if it has clear margins. Clear margins mean the cells around the area of tissue that was removed don't contain any melanoma. When there aren't any cancer cells left around the removed area, your cancer is less likely to come back.
Treatment for the most advanced forms of melanoma like stage 4 melanoma may use targeted drugs and immunotherapy.
"Targeted therapies are medicines that are not for everyone with melanoma," says Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. The medicines specifically target patients with certain genetic abnormalities, like the BRAF mutation.
According to Dr. Pavlick, it's estimated that 50 percent of melanoma patients with metastatic disease will develop the BRAF mutation, which drives the melanoma to keep spreading.
The BRAF inhibitor, which is a type of medication, blocks and shuts off the mutation's ability to spread.
WATCH: Targeted therapy for melanoma.
For patients with advanced melanoma, research found immunotherapy may significantly lower the risk of the cancer recurring. Immunotherapy is a drug that works to activate immune cells against cancer by harvesting the body's own ability to fight off the cells.
For patients who undergo immunotherapy to treat their melanoma, they should be mindful of the possible side effects.
Common Immunotherapy side effects include:
- Nausea or stomach discomfort
- Joint pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in blood cell counts
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, you may have some questions for your doctor. SurvivorNet suggests some of the following to help you on your cancer journey.
- What type of skin cancer do I have?
- What treatment options exist for my type of melanoma?
- Will this treatment be covered by insurance?
- Would treatment through a clinical trial make sense to me?
- What resources exist to help manage my anxiety because of this diagnosis?