What is Amelanotic Melanoma?

Nick Doniger

Though most types of the skin lesions known as melanomas appear dark and are easily noticeable, amelanotic melanomas are free of dark pigmentation. Like any other type of melanoma, they are cancerous. Many different types of melanoma may appear amelanotic. The prognosis and treatment for amelanotic melanoma is similar to that of most other types of melanoma.

Moles may be malignant if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, appear to spread their color into surrounding skin or change in appearance.
Moles may be malignant if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, appear to spread their color into surrounding skin or change in appearance.

Amelanotic melanomas appear as lesions with little to no pigmentation but with a lightly pigmented border. These lesions may look white, pinkish, or reddish, and are generally scar-like in appearance. Most melanomas are pigmented due to a chemical called melanin, produced by melanocyte cells. Melanin protects skin from the sun and causes dark skin coloration. For reasons not yet known, amelanotic melanomas are completely devoid of melanin.

The survival rate of patients with desmoplastic melanoma tends to be longer than that of other skin cancer sufferers.
The survival rate of patients with desmoplastic melanoma tends to be longer than that of other skin cancer sufferers.

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Due to the lack of dark color normally present in most types of melanomas, amelanotic melanoma is at risk of going unnoticed for a long period of time. It often goes undiagnosed until increasing in size, or until the area begins to bleed and itch profusely. Because of all of this, and as a result of frequent misdiagnosis, amelanotic melanomas tend to be quite advanced when finally diagnosed. This type of melanoma accounts for fewer than five percent of all diagnoses.

A light complexion is considered one of the greatest risk factors for all types of melanoma.
A light complexion is considered one of the greatest risk factors for all types of melanoma.

Many different types of melanoma may be described as amelanotic, including desmoplastic melanoma. This particular type of amelanotic melanoma often appears under the fingernails or toenails, though may also be present on the head or neck as a prominent tumor. Desmoplastic melanoma is sometimes discovered after a patient undergoes cryotherapy, which is used for treating a serious condition known as lentigo meligna melanoma. The prognosis for desmoplastic melanoma is somewhat more unique than the prognosis of many other types of melanoma. For unknown reasons, the survival duration of patients with such lesions tends to be longer than that of other skin cancer sufferers.

Amelanotic melanoma found underneath the toenailsmay necessitate amputation.
Amelanotic melanoma found underneath the toenailsmay necessitate amputation.

If a lesion fitting the description of amelanotic melanoma appears on the skin, particularly if found next to a previously treated melanoma, it is recommended that a doctor is consulted immediately for an examination. If contracted, amelanotic melanoma may be treated in the same fashion as other melanoma types. Surgery tends to be difficult for these lesions, though it is an option, and chemotherapy may be necessary if such lesions advance to a cancerous stage. The greatest risk factors of any type of melanoma are sun exposure, light complexion, a family history of melanoma contraction, or a large number of moles, particularly if such moles are abnormally shaped.

Excessive sun exposure is a risk factor for all types of melanoma.
Excessive sun exposure is a risk factor for all types of melanoma.
Amelanotic melanoma is frequently misdiagnosed in patients.
Amelanotic melanoma is frequently misdiagnosed in patients.
Extensive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause melanocytes to grow abnormally.
Extensive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause melanocytes to grow abnormally.
Removal of an amelanotic melanoma may be recommended, although it is often difficult.
Removal of an amelanotic melanoma may be recommended, although it is often difficult.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

@Mor - Though it is good to look up melanoma pictures to see what to look for, it's important to remember that most of the images online are of more advanced amelanotic melanomas and so the tumors are usually shown as pink or red.

But, in earlier stages, amelanotic melanomas might not look that different from your ordinary skin. So don't just rely on the pictures. Take anything out of the ordinary to your doctor.

Mor

It sounds like it's difficult to identify this kind of melanoma, but searching for pictures of amelanotic melanoma online can help. That way you can learn what they look like, so you can catch them. Luckily, amelanotic melanomas are very rare.

The earlier they are caught, the better, so if you have fair skin you should be checking it all the time.

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