• How is melanoma different from other skin cancers?

    Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the most aggressive, dangerous form of the disease. If you have melanoma, getting an early diagnosis and beginning cancer care as soon as possible is critical. Melanomas are different from other forms of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—in a number of ways. Here is what you need to know.

    Melanoma begins in the pigment cells.

    Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells in the skin that cause pigments. It develops when the DNA in these cells is damaged and not repaired by the body. This damage usually occurs as the result of UV ray exposure, such as you might get from sunlight or in a tanning bed.

    Although melanoma can happen on any skin surface, in men, they are most common on the head and neck and between the shoulders and hips. Women are most likely to get melanoma on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips.

    Melanoma is dangerous because it spreads.

    Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas tend to grow extremely slowly and very rarely spread to other parts of the body. Melanomas, on the other hand, can spread, or metastasize, extremely quickly.

    When melanoma spreads beyond the initial location, it can cause cancer in other parts of the body. After it spreads, it becomes much more difficult to treat. The reason melanoma is much more likely to be fatal than other forms of skin cancer is because it invades other parts of the body more quickly.

    Melanomas usually resemble moles.

    Other forms of skin cancer are more likely to look like red or white scaly spots, but melanomas frequently resemble dark moles. In some cases, a benign mole can turn into a melanoma. By being vigilant about these characteristics of your moles, you can spot melanoma in an early, treatable stage:

    • Asymmetry
    • Jagged border
    • Color variations, sometimes including red and blue
    • Diameter that is larger than a pencil eraser
    • Any change in appearance

    The Cancer Care Center at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center provides cutting-edge cancer treatment for a range of different forms of the disease. If you’re concerned about your symptoms or need more information about cancer care in West Hills, please call (818) 676-4321.