Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the cells of the skin that produce pigmentation. It spreads to other areas of the body as it grows beneath the surface of the skin. Melanoma that occurs in the foot or ankle often goes unnoticed during its earliest stage, when it would be more easily treated.
Most cases of melanoma are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. Anyone can get melanoma, but some factors put a person at greater risk for developing this type of cancer, including:
· Fair skin, skin that freckles, blond or red hair
· Blistering sunburns
· Numerous moles, especially if they appeared at a young age
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even in areas of the body not exposed to the sun. Melanoma usually looks like a spot on the skin that is predominantly brown, black, or blue – although in some cases it can be red or even white. However, not all areas of discoloration on the skin are melanoma. There are four signs (known as the ABCD’s of melanoma) to look for when self inspecting moles and other spots on the body:
Asymmetry: Melanoma is usually asymmetric, which means one half is different in shape from the other half.
Border: Border irregularity often indicates melanoma. The edge is typically ragged, notched, or blurred.
Color: Melanoma is typically a mix of colors or hues, rather than a single, solid color.
Diameter: Melanoma grows in diameter, whereas moles remain small. A spot that is larger than 5 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) is cause for concern.
To diagnose melanoma Dr. Mendoza will ask the patient a few questions, such as: Is the spot new or old? Have you noticed any changes in size or color? If so, how rapidly has this change occurred? He will also examine the spot to determine whether a biopsy is necessary. If a biopsy is performed and it reveals melanoma, Dr. Mendoza will develop a treatment plan with you.
Everyone should practice strategies that can help prevent melanoma – or at least aid in early detection, so that early treatment can be undertaken. Be sure to apply sunscreen on the soles as well as the tops of feet. Inspect all areas of feet daily – including the soles, underneath toenails, and between the toes. If you wear nail polish, remove it occasionally so that you can inspect the skin underneath the toenails.
Remember, early detection is crucial with malignant melanoma. If you see any of the ABCD signs – or if you have discoloration beneath a toenail that is unrelated to trauma – be sure to call our office at 615-452-8899 or click here to schedule your appointment with Dr. Mendoza as soon as possible!