Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that accounts for only around 1% of skin cancers. However, this causes the great majority of skin cancer-related deaths. In younger people under the age range of 30 years, melanoma is one of the most common cancers.
Young women, especially, are more at risk of developing melanoma.
Over the last 30 years, melanoma incidence has increased dramatically. It is broadly accepted that the increasing levels of UV or ultraviolet exposure are one of the major reasons for this rapid rise in the number of melanoma cases.
Here, in this article, I will guide you through the causes, prevention, and treatment of melanoma. Before starting those, let’s have a basic understanding of what melanoma is.
What Is Melanoma?
The word simply means “black tumor.” Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, which grows really quickly and comes with the ability to spread to any organ.
There’s a particular type of skin cell called melanocytes. All these cells are responsible for producing melanin. Yes, the dark pigment makes the skin color. In most cases, melanomas are brown or black in color. However, in some cases, it can be red, purple, pink, or skin-colored.
Around 30% of melanomas start in existing moles. However, the rest percentage begins in normal skin. That is why it is always recommended to pay proper attention to any type of changes in your skin. Remember, most melanomas do not start as moles.
Here, I would also like to mention that the number of moles you have might help you to predict the risk of developing melanoma. Due to the fast growth rate of melanoma, the treatment delay can sometimes be the reason for death.
So, it is crucial to understand whether you belong to a group of people who is more exposed to melanoma cancer. When you know that you are at risk of developing this skin cancer, you can be extra vigilant to small changes in your skin and will opt for skin cancer examinations, as melanoma has a 99% cure rate in case it is diagnosed at the earliest stage.
As the treatment success is directly related to the depth of malignant melanoma growth, early detection is crucial.
Melanoma Symptoms And Signs
Typically, in why where in your body melanoma can develop. But, often, they develop in those areas that have exposure to the sun, like your arms, legs, back, and face. In those areas that are not that exposed to sun, melanomas can happen there as well.
These areas are your hands, fingernail beds, palms, and feet. People with darker skin tones are most prone to develop these hidden melanomas.
Here are the first melanoma symptoms and signs.
- A change in an already existing mole.
- The development of an unusual-looking growth or a new pigment on your skin.
Here, you need to note one thing; melanomas do not always necessarily start as a mole. It can happen on normal-appealing skin as well.
These are generally of uniform colors, like black, brown, or tan. They also have a distinct border that separates the mole from the surrounding skin. Usually, moles are round or oval and usually smaller than one-fourth inches or around 6 millimeters in diameter.
Most of your moles start to appear in your childhood, and other new moles might develop until you reach 40 years. By this particular time, they are adults. In most cases, an individual usually has 10 to 40 moles.
Over time, miles can change in appearance, and some might even disappear with age.
Unusual Moles Might Indicate Melanoma
In order to help you identify characteristics of unusual moles, which might indicate melanomas or any other type of skin cancer. I will ask you to think of the letters A B C D E.
A (Asymmetric shape)
Check for moles that are irregular in shape, such as two very different-looking halves.
B (irregular Border)
Check for moles with scalloped borders or irregular notched. These are the characteristics of melanomas.
C (Change in Color)
Check for growths which have several colors or any uneven distribution of color.
Check for any new growth in a mile that is larger than one-fourth inch or around 6 millimeters.
Check for any type of changes over time, like a mole that grows in size or which changes shape and color. Moles might also evolve in order to develop new symptoms and signs, like new itchiness or bleeding.
Melanoma also can develop in some areas that have very little or simply no exposure to the sun, like the spaces between your toes and your palms, genitals, scalp, or soles. All these are sometimes considered hidden melanomas, as they occur in places that most people would not think about checking.
When melanoma is developed in individuals with darker skin, it is more likely to happen in hidden areas. Here they are.
- Melanoma in the eye.
- Melanoma in the digestive tract, mouth, vagina, or urinary tract.
- Melanoma under a nail.
Overexposure to sunlight, specifically sunburn when you are young, is the major risk factor for developing melanoma. Most experts agree with this fact. On the other hand, statistics say that 86% of melanomas are the result of UV or solar ultraviolet rays.
Now, you might be thinking, exposure to the sun is responsible for creating vitamin D, then how can it cause skin cancer?
You might not know that exposure to ultraviolet rays can damage the cell’s DNA and result in some changes to some specific genes, which affect how cells divide and grow. And when your skin’s DNA is damaged, the cells start to reproduce.
Along with all these, ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds also increases the risk of melanoma. It also has been designated as a carcinogen or cancer-causing by the WHO (World Health organization).
The use of tanning beds might also be associated with more than 6,000 cases of melanoma every year in the USA. Although any individual can develop melanoma, there are some people with the following scenarios who are more exposed to the risk of developing melanoma.
- A weakened immune system.
- Several moles, specifically atypical moles.
- History of tanning bed use.
- Excess exposure to the sun, including sunburn and blistering sunburn.
- Blonde or red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and fair skin.
- Family history of melanoma.
- Personal history of melanoma.
- Living near the equator or in any of the high elevations might increase your ultraviolet exposure.
As per the statistics and reports, melanoma is more common, especially in white people. But that doesn’t mean people with other skin problems are not safe. Individuals with darker skin tones mostly get melanoma on their nails, soles, and palms.
In case you have a mole or any other suspicious-looking spots, your doctor might need to remove it and check it under the microscope in order to see in case it contains any cancer cells.
This particular process is called a biopsy.
After receiving the biopsy skin report, your doctor will check the evidence of melanoma cells. After that, the professional will determine whether the melanoma has spread or not. This is termed staging.
When the diagnosis is made, melanoma is categorized on the basis of many factors, like its appearance under the microscope and how deeply it has spread already. While the outcomes are being predicted, tumor thickness is the most crucial characteristic.
Here are the stages of melanoma.
Melanoma in situ (Stage 0): In this stage, the melanoma is only in the epidermis or the top layer of your skin.
- Stage I: Here, the melanoma is in the primary stage possessing lower risk and no evidence of spread. With surgery, this stage can be mostly curable.
- Stage II: Some features are present, which points to a higher risk of recurrence; however, here, also no evidence of spread is noticed.
- Stage III: In this stage, the melanoma has spread to the nearby skin and lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: This is the last stage, where the melanoma has already spread to more distant skin or lymph nodes or even to internal organs.
On the basis of your stage of melanoma and, obviously, your general health, the treatment of melanoma differs. Usually, surgery is the main treatment here. This procedure typically involves cutting out cancer along with some of the normal skin surrounding the melanoma.
Depending on both the size and exact location of the skin cancer, the amount of healthy skin that will be removed is determined. The removal or surgical excision of melanoma can be typically performed in the dermatologist’s office under local anesthesia.
In case your case is an advanced one, you might need some additional treatments apart from or in place of surgery.
Here, I am mentioning some treatments for melanoma.
- Metastasectomy: Here, small melanoma buts are removed from organs.
- Lymphadenectomy: In case the melanoma has already spread, the lymph nodes near the primary diagnosis site might be needed to remove. This way, the spreading of melanoma to other parts of your body can be prevented.
- Melanoma Surgery: In case the patient is in the early stage, a typical surgery has a higher probability of curing melanoma. As I have mentioned earlier, it can be performed in the dermatologist’s office under local anesthesia. Here, the melanoma, along with the margin or healthy surrounding skin, is removed.
- Targeted Cancer Therapy: This treatment option mostly relies on drugs for attacking specific cancer cells. This special targeted approach solely goes after cancer cells, leaving all the healthy cells untouched of the patient.
- Immunotherapy: This particular treatment option stimulates the immune system of the patient to help fight cancer.
- Radiation Therapy: It typically includes treatments with high-energy rays in order to attack cancer cells along with shrinking tumors.
Some particular patients with melanoma or skin cancer might also participate in a clinical trial. Here a research program is being conducted with the patient in order to evaluate a medical device, drug, or treatment.
By protecting yourself from excessive exposure to sun and sunburns, you might reduce the chances of developing melanoma. Here are some things that are recommended by health experts.
- Do not use tanning beds; instead of that, use a spray tan.
- Avoid the sun and go for shades, specifically between morning 10 a.m. to evening 4 p.m.
- Wear hats with brims, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and sunglasses wherever it is possible.
- It is always best to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Higher that will also be great. Don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen for 1.5 hours or more often in case you are sweating or swimming.
- Use a sun-protection lip balm.
- Last but not least, always apply sunscreen to infants older than 6 months and young children.
In order to minimize the risks associated with melanoma, early detection is crucial. Make sure you are informing your doctor about any new or changing moles, skin discoloration, and sores.
Apart from that, it will also be great if you ask your doctor to perform a total skin examination routinely in order to check for signs of skin cancer.
Consult With Doctor
Now, you know the major things that you should know about melanoma. Now, here are the things that you need to consider in case you are a little confused about when you are going to pay a visit to your doctor.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- Numerous or any new large moles.
- Any mole that bleeds is tender or itches.
- A mole changes in shape, color, and size.
- Personal history of skin cancer or atypical moles that are called nevi.
History of intense sun exposure as a young individual or any blistering and painful sunburns.