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What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

Woman holding umbrella to prevent sun and skin cancer

What everyone needs to know about Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanoma is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer. In this skin condition, pigment producing cells in the skin known as melanocytes undergo uncontrolled growth and can even spread to other organs.  It can arise anywhere on the skin either from an existing mole or as a “new” growth.

As part of its efforts to raise awareness of skin cancer in Singapore, Thomson Specialist Skin Centre – with its senior consultant dermatologist, Dr Tan Hiok Hee, has prepared this FAQ on the causes and signs of the skin cancer known as malignant melanoma as well as other forms of skin cancer.

What causes melanoma?

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun has been linked to causing melanoma. Genetic factors may also play an important role in melanoma development.

What are the risk factors for developing melanoma?

Some risk factors include:

  • Prior diagnosis of melanoma
  • Patients with unusual (atypical or dysplastic) moles or many moles
  • Patients with fair skin, red or blond hair, or lots of freckles
  • Excessive chronic exposure to the sun or a history of multiple painful sunburns during childhood
  • Patients with a family history of melanoma (parent, sibling or child)
  • Certain kinds of congenital (birth) moles

Possible signs of skin cancer

Any new or changing mole, freckle or skin growth requires prompt medical attention. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, especially on the back, and even on the nailbeds. In Asian patients, we also look particularly at the hands and feet.

The following are warning signs in any mole or skin growth:

A – Asymmetry in the colour or surface of the mole

B – Irregular Borders around the pigmentation

C – Variegated or unusual Colours in the skin pigmentation (e.g. black, brown, blue, red, crusting or bleeding)

D – Diameter of pigmented area greater than 6mm

E – Evolving or changes in any of the following signs (shape, size or colour) or symptoms (bleeding, pain or itch) of the skin growth

Regular self-examination to detect changes in your skin and pigmented areas should be done once a month. The entire skin surface should be examined either with the help of someone else or the use of mirrors for areas that are hard to see. Finally, a skin check by a dermatologist is recommended every 6 months to a year, depending on your risk factors.

Can malignant melanoma be cured?

As in any form of cancer, early detection is key. When detected early, surgical removal of melanomas can cure it completely. Early detection is crucial as the thickness of the melanoma can directly affect its survival rate.

What are the other types of skin cancers besides melanoma?

There are other non-pigmented skin cancers such as squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer. These skin cancers are also linked to chronic or intense overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. It is important to remember that not all skin cancers are pigmented like moles. Hence, any new growths or changing skin lesions should be evaluated promptly by a doctor.

How to prevent skin cancer

  • Avoid peak sunlight hours from 10am to 4 pm.
  • Avoid artificial tanning parlours.
  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of at least 25 regularly and liberally. Reapply every 2 hours when working or playing outdoors and apply about half an hour before going outdoors.
  • Wear sun protective clothing such as a wide brimmed hat or long-sleeved shirt and pants when outdoors.

To find out more about skin cancer, malignant melanomas, or other skin care concerns, visit the Thomson Specialist Skin Centre.