Melanoma Skin Cancer
Melanoma is a serious condition – that develops in the specialized cells that produce dark pigments called melanin that gives skin its color. It is more likely common in women around the age group of 40 or below.
Melanoma occurs mostly in the exposed areas of skin such as around the eyes, nose, or throat. It rarely occurs in inside areas of the body. It is essential to detect the warning signs of cancer to reduce the potential risk of developing cancer. Early detection can increase your survival rate through effective cure and treatment plans.
Causes and Risk Factors
Melanoma skin cancer occurs when the cells that produce pigments in the skin (melanocytes) become cancerous. Some of the known causes and risk factors for melanoma include –
- Age – Melanoma can occur at any age, but the risk increases as people get older.
- Gender – Men have a slightly higher risk of developing melanoma than women.
- Geographic location – People who live closer to the equator or at high altitudes have a higher risk of developing melanoma because they are exposed to more intense UV radiation from the sun.
- Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – Exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds is a major risk factor for melanoma. This is because UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells, which can lead to mutations that cause cancer.
Melanoma Skin Cancer
5. Family history – People with a family history of melanoma have an increased risk of developing the disease. This is because some genetic mutations can be passed down through families, which can increase the risk of melanoma.
6. Fair skin, freckles, and light-colored hair – People with fair skin, freckles, and light-colored hair have a higher risk of developing melanoma because they have less melanin in their skin to protect against UV radiation.
7. Having many moles or unusual moles – People with many moles or unusual moles (dysplastic nevi) are at a higher risk of developing melanoma.
8. Immune system suppression – People with weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS or those who have had an organ transplant and are taking immunosuppressive drugs) have a higher risk of developing melanoma.
Many people who develop melanoma have no known risk factors, so it’s important to protect your skin from the sun and to have regular skin exams to detect any unusual moles or changes in the skin.
Melanoma can develop in any area of your body. They often develop in areas that are highly exposed to the sun such as the face, back, legs, or arms. However, they may also occur in areas that have less sun exposure such as the palms of the hand, feet, and fingernails.
- Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight
- Tanning lamps or beds use
- Personal history of Melanoma
- Family history of Melanoma
- Weakened immune system
- Fair skin, freckles, or blond hair
- Many moles especially atypical moles (larger moles that are non-cancerous)
- Living in high elevations or equator regions can increase sun exposure
On the basis of statistical reports, melanoma occurs in people with white skin. But, also people with darker skin are equally at risk of developing melanoma, especially on palms, soles, and fingernails.
Diagnosis and Tests
Melanoma can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and various tests. Some of the tests that may be used to diagnose melanoma include –
1. Skin examination – A dermatologist will examine the skin to check for any unusual moles or spots.
2. Biopsy – If an unusual mole or spot is found, a biopsy may be performed. This involves removing a small sample of the skin and examining it under a microscope to check for the presence of cancer cells.
3. Imaging tests – Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be done to see if the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan – It can show if the melanoma has spread to your internal organs.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan – It checks for melanoma tumors in the brain or spinal cord.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan – It can check for the presence of melanoma in nearby lymph nodes and other parts of your body.
4. Sentinel lymph node biopsy – If the melanoma has been diagnosed, a sentinel lymph node biopsy may be done to see if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
5. Blood tests – Blood tests may be done to check for certain proteins that may be present in people with advanced melanoma.
Early detection of melanoma is key to successful treatment, so it’s recommended to have regular skin exams and to report any changes or concerns to a healthcare professional.
Your doctor will examine your mole through biopsy to determine the spread of melanoma. This process is called staging.
Melanoma is grouped into the following stages after the detection of cancer spread –
Stage 0 – Melanoma is present in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis.
Stage 1 – It is primary melanoma with no spread of melanoma.
Stage 2 – Feature indicates the presence of melanoma but has no signs of melanoma spread.
Stage 3 – Melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes
Stage 4 – Melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes or skin, as well as to the internal organs of the body.
The treatment for melanoma depends on the stage of cancer, the size, and location of the tumor, and the overall health of the patient. Treatment options may include –
- Surgery – Surgery is the main treatment for melanoma. It involves removing the tumor and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue.
- Lymphadenectomy – Removal of lymph nodes may be required at the site to prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
- Metastasectomy – It removes small melanoma bits from organs.
- Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that stimulates the immune system to attack cancer cells. It may be used for advanced melanoma.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, or it may be used to relieve symptoms in advanced melanoma cases.
- Targeted therapy – Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that targets specific genes or proteins that help cancer cells grow. It may be used for advanced melanoma.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used for advanced melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.
The treatments for melanoma can have certain side effects, and the decision to undergo treatment should be made after a careful discussion with a healthcare professional. Additionally, it’s recommended to protect the skin from the sun to prevent melanoma from developing or recurring.
In general, if melanoma is detected and treated in its early stages, the outlook is good. According to global statistical reports, the five-year survival rate for people with localized melanoma (i.e. cancer that has not spread beyond the skin) is approximately 99%. However, if the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs, the five-year survival rate drops to around 66%.
It is necessary to take into consideration that melanoma can vary widely from person to person. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with melanoma, it is important to consult a healthcare professional about your individual prognosis and treatment options. Early detection and treatment is the key to improving outcomes for people with melanoma.