Melanie is a melanocyte—a cell within in the bottom or basal layer of the epidermis that is responsible for the production of pigment. Melanie begins life as an undifferentiated cell. She and her cousins migrate from the brain to various parts of the body during development, including the skin, eyes, heart, and bones. When they reach those organs, they differentiate and become melanocytes.
Most of Melanie’s life is spent producing melanin, or pigment. There are many different types of melanin in the body, and Melanie’s job is to produce one of these types.
The rate at which Melanie produces her melanin can vary depending on what happens to Melanie during her life span. Exposure to the sun or to various chemicals in the body can speed up Melanie’s production or slow it down. Our skin color is not determined so much by the number of cells like Melanie, but rather by the rate at which they produce melanin and how it gets packaged inside of skin cells.
Through time, Melanie gets more and more exposure to the sun on unprotected areas of skin. Sunlight is composed both of visible light and several kinds of invisible light. One kind of invisible light, Ultra violet or UV light, has a particular impact on Melanie.
As UV light (sometimes called UV radiation) continually bombards Melanie, several things happen. First, she begins producing more and more melanin. Second, the UV light (especially UV-B radiation) penetrates Melanie’s cell membrane, hitting the strands of DNA far in her nucleus. This in turn damages the DNA. Third, the UV radiation causes other chemicals to become malformed, which jams some of the mechanisms that Melanie uses when copying her DNA. This damages the DNA further.
Melanie is now angry. Her DNA damaged, Melanie begins to run out-of-control, producing extra melanin and extra copies of herself. Melanie and her gang of rogue melanocytes might begin to migrate closer to the surface of the skin at this point, forming what looks, from the outside, like a mole.
But Melanie is far different from the average mole. In fact, Melanie and her gang have become quite dangerous— they have become a melanoma (a type of skin cancer). These cells will continue to produce rogue cells at an increased rate. The melanoma will increase in size and begin to take over more and more of the surrounding tissue.
The melanoma need not stop at the skin, either. Since Melanie came from a cluster of undifferentiated cells, the melanoma can spread to a number of related cells throughout the body, including cells in the bones and in the heart.
If left unchecked, Melanie and her gang can do untold damage to the skin and manage to infect a number of other organs. Once these cancerous cells begin to metastasize, or spread to other body parts, removing or stopping them becomes a thousand times more difficult, if not impossible.
Even if Melanie is caught before this happens, she and her gang of rogue cells will have to be removed—along with a fair amount of the surrounding skin and tissue. This can lead to scarring, and there is no guarantee that angry cancer cells like Melanie will not return.
How to Spot Melanie When She’s Angry
Fortunately, there are some subtle signs that can tell us whether a group of melanocytes is a harmless clumping (that is, just a run-of-the-mill mole) or a cancerous gang of cells forming a melanoma.
You can remember the signs to look for by remembering A, B, C, D:
- Asymmetry. Benign growths such as moles will be round in appearance, while cancerous tissue like Melanie will often appear asymmetric—that is, one side will look different or larger than the other, and the growth will fail to be round.
- Border. The edges of a benign growth will often be smooth, while cancerous tissue like Melanie will appear jagged or crusty. In addition, the cancerous tissue might “meld” into the skin, lacking a clear, discernable border.
- Color. Benign growths have an even color, and are usually dark. A cancerous tissue like Melanie will often appear multi colored, with darker or lighter areas. There might also be a color “gradient”—that is, the color might start darker on one end of the growth and shade off to the natural color of the skin.
- Diameter. Benign growths tend to be small and do not increase in size. Cancerous growths like Melanie tend to be larger and will increase in size over time. Any growth that is bigger than a standard pencil eraser is worrisome and should be inspected by a dermatologist.
In addition, one could add E for evolution. A typical mole will not change once the colored growth has made an appearance. But melanoma’s can change with time—often becoming bigger, more jagged, and more discolored. Other worrisome signs are if the growth in question begin to bleed or itch.
However, you should not wait for a growth or discoloration to change before deciding to see a dermatologist. If a real melanoma is given the chance to grow, the amount of tissue that might need to be removed increases. Also, the larger the growth, the higher the chance of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body increases as well.
A visit to a certified dermatologist can determine whether you have a benign mole or the beginnings of a cancerous growth, like Melanie and her gang. Besides a visual inspection, the dermatologist might biopsy the growth—that is, he or she will take a small slice of the growth in order to run tests and view the tissue under a microscope. This procedure is quick and mostly painless, and can help to catch a cancer in the early stages of development.
Even though Melanie starts out life as a small cell happily creating skin pigment, an angry Melanie can do a lot of damage that belies her size. This is why we can’t stress enough: if you have a suspicious growth, get tested today!