Melanoma is the most common form of cancer among young adults aged 25 to 29. Melanoma is also one of the deadliest types of skin cancer, causing more than 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.

Malignant melanoma impacts a disproportionately high number of Oregonians. In fact, Oregon currently has the 5th highest number of melanoma cases in the nation.

The cells involved in melanoma are melanocytes, which produce melanin, the substance responsible for skin color or pigmentation. This is why melanomas often present as pigmented or dark brown or black spots on the skin. Melanoma tumors can metastasize (move to other sites in the body), often spreading rapidly to the lymphatic system and internal organs. This tendency to metastasize makes melanomas very dangerous. When caught early, the risk of death from melanoma is very low; but when caught late, the mortality rate is, unfortunately, much higher. This is why early detection is critical for treating and curing this fast-growing skin cancer.

Melanomas can often present as a new or changing mole. Two-thirds of melanomas grow within an existing mole. About one-third of melanomas grow de-novo (outside any pre-existing mole).

Overexposure to the sun beginning in childhood is believed to be a cause of melanoma. Melanomas can also have a genetic component; that is, melanoma can run in families.

Melanoma diagnosis requires an initial diagnostic biopsy. Once melanoma has been diagnosed, treatment for melanoma is essential for survival. Treatment modalities include surgical removal, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. The type of melanoma, its depth when detected, lymph node involvement, spread of the cancer (metastasis) (local, distant, or nonexistent) determine the specific treatment regimen for melanoma.

What to look for

The key to detecting skin cancers is to look for and notice changes in your skin.

  • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body
  • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingertips, toes, mouth, nose, or genitalia
  • Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growths
  • Existing moles that grow, develop color variegation, itch, or bleed
  • Brown or black streaks under the nails
  • A sore that easily bleeds, repeatedly heals, and reoccurs without trauma or cause
  • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red

To monitor pigmented spots, the American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following guide, called the ABCDEs of melanoma.

  • A – Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in regard to size, shape, or color.
  • B – Border: The edges are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • C – Color: The color varies from one area to another, sometimes including red, white, blue, or shades of different colors.
  • D – Diameter: When diagnosed, the mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters (roughly the diameter of a pencil eraser), but may also be smaller.
  • E – Evolving: A mole or skin lesion changes in size, shape, or color, or is different from other moles or spots on the body.

If you note any of these conditions, please call our office at 541-706-3819 to make an appointment.

Prevention is key

Exposure to the sun and other UV radiation (such as in a tanning bed) can lead to melanomas. Prevention is vital and involves these steps.

  • Staying out of the sun during peak UV exposure hours (usually between 10 am and 4 pm)
  • Not using tanning beds
  • Wearing protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses
  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreens year-round with a SPF of 30 or greater. See our sunscreen recommendations here. (link to sunscreen page)
  • Checking your skin monthly and contacting your dermatologist if you notice any changes
  • Getting regular skin examinations