Melanoma

melanoma

What is it?

Melanoma is the most malignant type of skin cancer which occurs less frequently then other types of skin cancer, but it is still a serious concern for many Americans. As with any type of cancer, early detection can significantly increase the chances of a complete and successful recovery. It may remain local within regional melanocyte cells, or may spread throughout the body to other types of cells. The least severe cases (and melanoma caught in its earliest stage) affect only the epidermis without penetrating into the lower skin, called the dermis.

Causes

Certain causes are due to a person’s relationship to the environment. Improper self-protection methods can lead to over-exposure to the sun.

According to WebMD, excessive exposure to the sun can cause this type of cancer to emerge, resulting in the growth and overgrowth of skin cells which eventually can begin to attack other cells around them. People who have experienced severe sunburns, especially in their youth, are at a higher risk of being affected. A person’s genetic predisposition may affect cancer outcomes, in addition to complications arising from the compounding of ailments. Previous occurrences of melanoma should be noted if present within the family. This doubles your chance of developing melanoma. Genetic mutations are also linked to its development, stemming from damage of DNA within cells. This is why noticing the sensitivity of your skin is essential. Furthermore, it is good to note that fairer skin which does not tan easily, is highly susceptible to developing sun damage, resulting in melanoma.

woman pulling at bikini to expose sunburn and tan lines

Symptoms

Changes in moles on the skin can be a symptom of melanoma. Having many moles, of different appearances is often an indicator that a person is genetically predisposed to the cancer. Extreme skin damage due to overexposure to the sun, as well as other changes in the skin are also symptomatic of skin cancer. Changes in moles or skin include changes in colour, texture or size. These may include the enlarging of a mole, a developing crustiness, scabbing, bleeding, or lumpiness. These unpleasant growths often appear on the shoulders, back and legs; in places which are generally more exposed to the sun. Melanoma growths tend to be 6mm or larger and may look like an uneven dark mole. Another symptom which helps to identify this is the presence of asymmetrical moles or growths.

Diagnosis

There are ways to screen yourself in order to catch the disease early. Regular self-screening, through monitoring changes in moles and birthmarks can lead to an early diagnosis, increasing the chance of eventually dispelling the disease. Asking your doctor to examine particular moles which you are worried about or to inspect your skin in general during your regular check-up, is another way to increase the likelihood of an early discovery. This is a main factor affecting the possibility of successfully treating occurrences of this disease. To produce a diagnosis, a biopsy is usually conducted of areas which are in question, which means that a bit of skin is taken from the surrounding area. A visit with a specialist in the recognition of cancer cells, or a pathologist, will often be advised. If the biopsy or screening comes back positive, further tests are necessary to assess the likelihood of it having spread. A sentinel lymph node biopsy will be conducted to test for this.

Treatment

The most common treatment for melanoma is the surgical removal of the cancerous cells. According to WebMD, Interferon is a medicine that is commonly recommended for more malignant forms of this cancer. Chemotherapy is sometimes used. Preventative measures will be discussed as a part of the treatment to lessen the possibility of further outbreaks.This can include talking about lifestyle changes and practices which can help protect you from over-exposing yourself in the sun, such as using sunscreen; avoiding tanning outside and in salons; wearing protective clothing (such as long-sleeves), and keeping out of the sun during its most intense hours – between 10am & 4pm.

Other basic aspects of treatment which are important to consider are lifestyle, nutrition, level of exercise and accessibility to a strong social support network which can be found in friends, family or support centres, such as Community Health Centers.