Skin Cancer

Metastatic Melanoma Signs & Symptoms

Last year, almost 9,500 Americans succumbed to metastatic melanomas, the rarest form of skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

A metastatic melanoma results due to a melanoma—a type of cancerous skin tumor that develops in normal or pigmented skin cells (a mole or birthmark) when melanin (coloring pigment) grows rampant.  Metastatic melanomas are considered deadly as they quickly spread (or metastasize) to other areas of the body—such as the blood vessels or lymphatic system. And although the signs are vague in the later stages, a melanoma can show the following warning signs…

1. Changes in Skin Shape, Color or Texture

In the earliest stages, melanomas tend to appear as a new skin growth that alters the shape, color, or texture of unblemished skin (i.e., a bruise-like mark or wart that won’t heal or a dark streak under a toenail). These changes can take place quickly within weeks or gradually change over months.

2. Transforms Existing Moles

Melanomas can also impact the shape, color, or size of an existing mole or birthmark. Typically, a melanoma will appear on the upper back if you are male or on the legs if you are female. However, the body can grow a melanoma on the fingernail and toenail beds, on the soles of the feet, palms, face, scalp, neck, and even within the ears, mouth, rectum, small intestine, or vaginal cavity.

3. Irritation and Bleeding

While the majority of melanomas don’t typically have any discomfort, you may experience soreness, skin tenderness, slight tingling, skin irritation, itchy or burning skin, and even bleeding and oozing on the skin growth.

4. Skin Elevation

A common sign to look out for with melanoma skin growths is if skin raises or thickens in an area where a mole was previously flat (level with the surface of the surrounding skin).

5. Skin Breakage or Wear

Consistency changes are also common with melanomas—for instance, you may experience skin erosion, flaking if the growth crusts over so that tiny pieces if skin break away and fall off with mild friction (i.e., rubbing from clothing).

6. Appearance of Lesions

Melanomas can also develop in satellite pigmentations (or grow into larger lesions) that surround a skin blemish (i.e., an existing mole or birthmark) turning the skin discolored (usually red), causing inflammation or swelling, and creating rings of discoloration around an existing blemish.

7. ABCDE System of Identification

ABCDE is a 5-point identification system used to help identify changes in potentially dangerous moles and skin growths. It stands for:

  1. Asymmetry—uneven moles or skin growths
  2. Border—irregular or blurred mole or skin growth edges
  3. Color—variations in color (darkness) in a mole or skin growth
  4. Diameter—calls into question moles larger in size than a standard pencil eraser
  5. Evolution—any changes in size, shape, surface, color, and discomfort of a mole or skin growth

8. Swollen Lymph Nodes

It may be difficult to know if a melanoma has become metastatic, meaning that it has spread.  The signs are typically very vague, however, swollen lymph nodes (lumps under the skin) in the areas of the armpit or groin can indicate an issue and should be brought to the attention of your doctor immediately.

9. Common Risk Factors

Even though a melanoma is difficult to predetermine, the following common risk factors are considered major melanoma influencers:

  • A family history of melanomas
  • Fair skin prone to sunburn and blistering
  • Residing in a sunny, hot climate at high altitude
  • Light blonde or red hair
  • Light blue or green eye color
  • Characteristic moles or birthmarks
  • Proclivity to moles or birthmarks
  • Frequent sun tanning or using tanning beds
  • A low immune system