Did you know that there isn’t just one type of melanoma — there are actually four main types of melanomas? (Plus a few other types, but these are *very* rare.) Let’s take a look.
1. Superficial spreading melanoma
What you should know: This is the most common form of melanoma. It accounts for up to 70 per cent of melanoma cases in Australia and New Zealand. While superficial spreading melanoma is more common in people with very fair skin, it may also occur in those who tan easily. It is rare in brown or black skin. It’s also uncommon in people under the age of 20 years. In fact, only 15% of these types of melanomas occur before the age of 40 years.
Where it is usually found: Superficial spreading melanoma appears on the surface of the skin and can develop anywhere on the body — even areas that see little sun. In men, it’s usually found on the central part of the body (chest and back). And in women, it’s more common on the legs.
How to spot it: Superficial spreading melanoma tends to grow slowly at first. It ‘spreads’ outwards (hence the name), rather than growing down into the skin. It can appear raised or flat and may look like a freckle that’s growing at its edges.
2. Nodular melanoma
What you should know: This is the second most common of all types of melanomas, accounting for 15 – 20 per cent. It is most frequently diagnosed in people in their fifties. Nodular melanomas can grow deeper into the skin and spread quicker than other types of melanomas.
Where it is usually found: Nodular melanoma common locations include the chest, back, scalp and neck.
How to spot it: This type of melanoma may look like a raised bump on the surface of the skin. It may start off blue or black in colour and become pink or red as it grows.
3. Lentigo maligna melanoma
What you should know: Lentigo maligna melanoma accounts for approximately 5 – 15 per cent of melanomas. It is most common in older adults (aged 60+). This is a slow-growing melanoma.
Where it is usually found: This type of melanoma develops on areas of the body that get the greatest amount of sun exposure. So, one of the most common places to find lentigo maligna melanoma is on the face and neck.
How to spot it: It begins life as a pre-cancerous disease called lentigo maligna. Like superficial spreading melanoma, it grows on the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). It may look like a stain on the skin or a big freckle (AKA Hutchinson’s freckle). It can appear flat or slightly raised with an uneven border. Usually, it is blue-black in colour, but can also be tan or brown.
Lentigo maligna is highly curable when spotted and treated early. But, if left untreated, it can spread into the deeper layers of the skin and become a cancerous form of melanoma — referred to as lentigo maligna melanoma.
4. Acral lentiginous melanoma
What you should know: This type of melanoma is rare, accounting for only 2 – 3% of melanoma diagnoses. It is more common in people with black or brown skin. Unlike other melanomas, it’s not believed to be caused by UV exposure. While it’s unknown what exactly causes acral lentiginous melanoma, it’s thought to be linked to pressure, friction, irritation, and skin trauma.
Where it is usually found: This type of melanoma is usually found in tricky-to-spot areas — or in places you might not think to check for cancer, such as the soles of the feet, under fingernails or toenails, and on the palms of the hands.
How to spot it: Acral lentiginous melanomas tend to look like a flat lesion with an irregular border. They may be black, brown, or greyish in colour.
Spotting an odd-looking or changing mole can be scary. So, what can you do to prevent a melanoma from developing?
Here are a few actions you can take to help reduce your risk of skin cancer.
- Avoid the sun when the UV index is at its highest, typically between 11am-3pm. (Check the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website here to see the UV Index in a location near you.)
- Wear sunscreen (ideally SPF 30 or higher) whenever you go outdoors.
- Keep arms and legs covered and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Regular self-check yor skin for changes
Melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. If you know you’re at risk, getting a professional skin check is essential, as early diagnosis is linked to a more positive outcome.