Melanoma symptoms may mirror several every-day conditions; you may have blurred vision suddenly and attibute it to a migrane headache starting.
You may have a stuffy nose and wonder if you have hayfever or a cold. You may have pain when passing water and think it could be cystitis. A bruised toenail may not be due to stubbing it. All these niggling problems might be symptoms of melanoma and need attention.
Melanomas arn’t just about cancerous moles. Although they more commonly appear on the epidemis (top layer of skin), they can also affect the mucosal linings such as the inside of the nose, mouth and throat and the genitals, underneath the nails (subungal melanoma), and in or around the eyeball (ocular melanoma). Each particular presence has symptoms that, if recognised early, can be treated effectively. Occasionally, as some melanomas appear in hidden areas such as inside the nose or the genitals, symptoms may go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced.
Here are some of the main melanoma symptoms :
Ocular Melanoma – This melanoma affects different areas of the eye. The most common is Uveal Melanoma which affects the iris and the eyeball lining. It is thought to be caused from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds and this is why I believe it is so important to wear good sunglasses or goggles during the summer months or tanning sessions. The main symptoms of ocular melanoma are continuous blurred vision, flashing lights similar to a migraine and lens fog as in cataracts.
Subungual Melanoma – This affects the finger and toenails. It can look like a narrow streak of brown/black pigment running vertically down the nail or can be a general larger dark patch that looks like it has been stubbed or hit with a tool. If this nail damage were due to accidental damage, you should expect it to not increase in size and to grow down with the nail (typically growing off the nail within approximately 3 months). If the pigment increases in size, the nail lifts off the nail bed or skin surrounding the nail also begins to pigment, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Mucosal Melanoma – The word ‘Mucosal’ refers to mucous membranes that surround tissues inside the body. These areas include the inside of the nose, mouth, cheeks and oesophagus (windpipe). They can harbour skin growths that cause symptoms similar to other conditions; melanoma inside the nose can cause stuffiness and difficulty breathing in due to decreased airway. In the mouth, it can cause symptoms that mimic an bitten cheek or a sore throat. Melanoma developing in the oseophagus can cause pain on swallowing that gets progressively worse, vomiting or the feeling of food getting stuck.
Genital Melanoma – Do we sit with a mirror and examine our ‘bits’ regularly, if at all? No! So genital melanoma can be one of the last places we would think to check. Luckily, it is one of the least common places for it to develop. When it does, it is usually from a mole somewhere around the vulva (external area in women) or inside the vagina. This is why I am very pro-smear testing as it is a great opportunity for the nurse to see if there are any visible skin changes internally. General genital melanoma symptoms include vaginal discharge that is different to your regular discharge, unusual bleeding, external itchiness or pain.
Anorectal Melanoma – This skin cancer affects either the anus or the rectum and tends to be discovered because it feels like you have piles or hemorrhoids. During an examination, if hemorrhoids are ruled out, further investigation with a specialist may reveal a rectal or anal melanoma. There can be bleeding after bowel movements, mucus in the bowel movement, constipation or diarrhea and itching internally or externally.
Urinary Tract Melanoma – The urinary tract is a general term that describes all the areas and tubes that produce and remove urine such as the kidneys, ureter, bladder and urethra (in men, it inludes the penis). Urinary tract melanoma symptoms are very similar to cystitis or a UTI (urinary tact infection) where you can experience pain on urination, an urgency to urinate, blood staining on wiping or difficulty passing urine. A UTI would require antibiotics and a swab to confirm it and it would generally clear up within a week. Cystitis can be ruled out if treatment does not clear the symptoms within a couple of days.
The above information should not be confused with scare-mongering as it is meant to show just how easy it can be to risk a hidden cancerous growth developing if no medical intervention is sought. Melanoma symptoms can mimic many other annoying conditions but it is wise to remember that these other conditions should clear up in a short period of time. A malignant melanoma in a non-visible area will only cause more severe symptoms as it progresses and should therefore be a warning to see your doctor as soon as possible.