Melanoma accounts for more than 75% of skin cancer deaths. Dermatologists hope that dispelling common myths about melanoma could help patients understand their risk factors.

“Despite our ongoing public education efforts on the causes and symptoms of melanoma, a number of misconceptions about this potentially deadly disease exist,” says Diane R. Baker, MD, FAAD, dermatologist, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “These myths could cause some people to think they are not at risk for melanoma because of their skin type or to dismiss warning signs because they are not typical symptoms of the disease.”

One myth about melanoma is that it follows the ABCD rule, which stands for asymmetry (meaning one half of the mole is different from the other), border irregularity (the edges or borders of melanomas are usually ragged or notched), color (melanoma often has a variety of hues and colors within the same lesion), and diameter (most melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm in diameter when diagnosed, although they can be smaller). However, dermatologists caution that there are exceptions to the rule and that not all melanomas follow it. For example, a nodular melanoma (NM) does not fit the ABCD criteria. NMs commonly occur as symmetric, elevated lesions that are uniform in color and nonpigmented.

Another myth is that moles that have hair are not cancerous. Although the majority of melanocytic (or pigmented) moles with hairs are benign, a new study published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology cites three cases in which the presence of one or more hairs in a pigmented lesion proved to be invasive melanoma. The authors of the study stress that a melanoma diagnosis should not be automatically ruled out in cases of pigmented lesions simply because they contain hair and patients should monitor all moles for signs of skin cancer regardless of whether hair is present.

Can people of color get skin cancer? Whereas Caucasians are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than other races, studies show that African-Americans are more likely to develop the condition on non-sun-exposed areas of the body such as the nails, soles of the feet, palms of the hands, mouth, nasal passages and genitals. A study showed that 90% of Caucasian patients develop melanoma on skin that is regularly sun-exposed and 33% of African-American patients developed the condition in these areas.

“Patients need to be vigilant in monitoring their skin for any changes that could signal a problem and dermatologists play a pivotal role in diagnosing melanoma at its earliest and most treatable stage,” Baker says.

Read about using energy-based devices for treating skin precancers in the May PSP.

[Newswise, May 7, 2007]