What you need to know about Melanoma

Facts & Stats

Melanoma is considered as one severe form of cancer. This is one medical condition that affects the skin. It grows in melanocytes, the cells that create a pigment called melanin. The color of the skin is determined by the presence of melanin. Melanoma can even affect the eyes and in some rare cases, internal organs like intestines. Since skin is the main organ that is affected by melanoma, it is very easy for a person to notice the early signs of this condition. In the recent times, the propensity of melanoma has increased greatly among women under the age of 40. Effective measures to contain the condition must be taken at the early stages.

Symptoms

Melanomas can be seen in any part of the body. Usually the areas in which they are observed are directly exposed to the sun, like the legs, face, arms and back. However, melanomas may also form in areas which do not receive too much direct sun exposure, like the feet soles, palms of the hands as well as the fingernail beds. Such hidden melanomas are typically observed in people having darker skin. The melanomas may vary in their shapes and borders. It is important to learn about the difference of a mole and a melanoma so that one may detect them easily.

Stages

Here are the main stages of the melanoma skin cancer.

  • Stage 0: The melanoma is limited to the epidermis of the skin.
  • Stage I: The tumor reaches the thickness of 0.8mm to 1mm. There may or may not be any ulceration.
  • Stage II: The tumor may reach a thickness of anywhere between 1mm to 4mm. In some cases, the thickness may exceed 4mm. There may or may not be any ulceration.
  • Stage III: The melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has now spread to distant parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.

Causes

Melanoma occurs if something goes wrong within melanocytes or the melanin-producing cells. Usually skin cells are produced in an orderly way where new cells replace old ones periodically. However, when the DNA of the skin cells undergoes a mutation, it can lead to uncontrollable growth of new cells which ultimately forms the cancer cells. The exact factors responsible for such DNA mutations are not known. Experts believe that a number of genetic and environmental factors may be responsible. People can get melanoma from harmful UV or ultraviolet rays of the sun and tanning beds and lamps. A family history of skin conditions or poor immunity can also lead to melanoma.

Diagnosis

While you can yourself identify the presence of melanoma in your skin, it is always a good idea to consult a medical expert. A skin specialist can carry out a thorough inspection of your skin. The skin expert can then carry out a biopsy by collecting cell samples from a growth or mole and then observing it closely. Punch biopsy, incisional biopsy and excisional biopsy are some of the common forms of biopsy performed for the diagnosis of melanoma. It is important to note that the type of diagnostic skin biopsy will depend on the nature of each and every individual case.

Treatment

Surgical treatment can be administered for melanoma cases where the nearby lymph nodes have been affected. The surgeon can just remove the affected lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also be used for destroying the affected cells. Sometimes targeted therapy is recommended by the doctor using a number of different drugs. Another way of treating melanoma is by administering biological therapy. This method can effectively boost the immune system of your body so that it can fight off cancer. A combination of these methods may sometimes be used to treat melanoma, although in most cases any one method would suffice.

Prevention

The best way to avoid getting melanoma is by staying away from direct sunlight between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm as these hours are characterized by maximum UV rays. Make sure that you use a sunscreen lotion with SPF 30. You can also wear protective clothing that covers your skin from direct sunrays. Getting photoprotective clothing from a good brand would work well for you. Do not use tanning beds and lamps as they are going to expose your skin to UV rays. You should also check your skin regularly for any signs of abnormalities that may lead to skin cancer.