In general, only about 20 to 30% of melanomas are associated with moles! The bulk of melanoma cases are of non-mole origin (de novo melanomas), i.e., they occur in areas of skin that appear “mole-free”until the melanoma develops.
Research has also revealed that people with non-mole melanomas have poorer outcomes compared to those with mole-associated melanomas. They are twice as likely to have melanoma that has already advanced beyond Stage 1 at the time of diagnosis. The 10-year survival rate for people with mole-associated melanomas are also better. Non-mole melanomas tend to be more aggressive in nature and more deadly compared to their non-mole counterparts.
Technically, all melanomas do arise from a primary tumor, but sometimes the exact location is hard to trace. The majority of melanoma is found in the skin, but it may also develop in other organ systems, such as the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, genitourinary tract, other mucosal sites, and also in the leptomeninges – the membranes bordering the spinal cord and brain – where some melanocytes exist.
Sometimes a phenomenon known as regression occurs, in which the immune system eliminates the melanoma cells at the initial tumor site, making it virtually undetectable at the site of origin. This can be a plausible explanation for melanoma spreading to other body parts, even when the primary tumor can’t be detected.
Both young adults and children get new moles as they grow. However, experts suggest that people should consult with their physician as soon as they notice a new mole or lesion on their skin, or one that has changed. It is also recommended to check if any skin growth or spothas irregular borders, is uneven, multi-colored, large in size, or evolving over time.
Thankfully, just like other types of skin cancer, melanoma of the skin is fully curable if detected early.Therefore, skin cancer prevention is key! Limiting exposure to UV rays from the sun; wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses when going out during day time; and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen several times a day can go a long way when it comes to protecting ourselves from all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.
So then, what about mole checks? What’s the point of mole-mapping or full-body skin checks if most melanomas don’t arise from existing moles?
- Well, firstly, we want to find the 20 to 30 % of melanomas that do arise from existing moles.
- Secondly, we/you need to know which moles have been on your skin forever, in order to notice if any new spots appear.
The take-home message from this information is that we should not only focus on our existing moles. Of course, we should not ignore them either as they have the potential to turn bad, but it’s the “new kid on the block” that is even more alarming!
How do I know if I have skin cancer? – Dr. Ben Wiese
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May is Melanoma Awareness Month
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