One of the greatest misconceptions about skin cancer is that it only forms in areas of the body that experience sun exposure. While it is more common to see melanoma on the face, neck, arms, legs, and back, the truth is that melanoma can—and will—appear on any part of the body that is covered in skin tissue. Furthermore, when left undiagnosed and untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.
How Does Melanoma Form?
Melanoma is a serious and potentially life-threatening form of cancer that forms in the melanocytes—the cells in the skin that produce pigment and give skin its color. When melanocytes start to grow out of control, melanomas begin to develop.
Melanoma is a fast-growing, aggressive, and dangerous type of skin cancer. Each year, over 87,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, and for around 11% of those who are diagnosed, it is fatal. Melanoma takes the life of one American every hour.
Because melanoma can grow quickly, at Vanguard Skin Specialists, we want to educate the public that you need to check every part of your skin for this deadly skin cancer.
Why can Melanoma affect the Genital Area?
She shares, “Melanocytes are present in our skin, including the skin of the vulva (outer surface area of the female genitalia) and penis, and even on the mucosa of the vagina and rectum. Melanoma of the genitalia, including the urogenital tract, is extremely rare. Among the risk factors is advanced age (the average age for this melanoma is over 60 years) and having lighter skin.”
The Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Melanoma
As is the case with all cancers, the earlier a melanoma is detected, the easier it is to treat and the higher the chance for cure becomes. With melanoma of the genital area, it can be much more difficult to achieve early diagnosis.
Dr. Renata Prado explains, “The vulva area is not exposed to UV radiation, so this exogenous risk factor does not play an important role in the pathogenesis of melanoma of the genital area. Specific gene mutations are found in this rare cancer. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of genital melanoma is often delayed, and the prognosis of this cancer is worse than what is found for melanoma of the skin throughout other parts of the body.”
Symptoms of Melanoma and Self-examinations
At Vanguard Skin Specialists, we promote a full-body skin exam that is from head to toe. Skin cancer can appear anywhere you have skin from between your toes to your scalp to the genital area. When you perform a self-examination at home, make sure you also include your genital area for possible signs of melanoma formation.
While extremely rare (only 3 out of 100 vaginal cancers are melanoma), there are some symptoms that occur which may help patients seek early treatment. These include:
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause
- Bleeding after sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells or is blood-stained
- Pain during sex
- A lump or growth in the vagina
- An open sore (especially if it lasts more than a month)
- A vaginal itch that won’t go away
It is important to note that many people who develop genital melanoma do not have any symptoms. It is vital, therefore, that—in addition to annual skin exams with your dermatologist—you keep regular appointments with your general practitioner. If you have concerns, do not feel uncomfortable asking your dermatologist to take a look. We diagnose and treat skin cancers everywhere you have skin.
Treatment Options for Melanoma in the Genital Area
There are some obvious complications with treating melanomas in the genital area, and treatments for these cancers can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted drugs.
If you are concerned that you might have melanoma in your genital area, or if you would like to discuss this further with your dermatologist, contact Vanguard Skin Specialists today at 719-355-1585 or fill out our online appointment request form.