WHAT IS MALIGNANT MELANOMA?
Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the cells of the skin that produce pigmentation (coloration). It is also called malignant melanoma because it spreads to other areas of the body as it grows beneath the surface of the skin. Unlike many other types of cancer, melanoma strikes people of all age groups, even the young.
Melanoma that occurs in the foot or ankle often goes unnoticed during its earliest stage, when it would be more easily treated. By the time melanoma of the foot or ankle is diagnosed, it frequently has progressed to an advanced stage, accounting for a higher mortality rate. This makes it extremely important to follow prevention and early detection measures involving the feet as well as other parts of the body.
Most cases of melanoma are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. This exposure can include intense UV radiation obtained during short periods or lower amounts of radiation obtained over longer periods.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?
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 mostly red or even white. However, not all areas of discoloration on the skin are melanoma.
There are four signs—known as the ABCDs 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 border, or 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.
If any of these signs are present on the foot, it is important to see a foot and ankle surgeon right away. It is also essential to see a surgeon if there is discoloration of any size underneath a toenail (unless the discoloration was caused by trauma, such as stubbing a toe or having something fall on it).
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 visit a foot and ankle surgeon as soon as possible.