Melanoma- The Notorious Skin Cancer
Melanoma also known as malignant melanoma is a type of skin cancers. In the US 9500 cases of skin cancers are diagnosed each day. Melanoma represents only 5% of the total number of skin cancers but accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer
deaths in the US. Each year the US spends approximately $ 8.1 billion on skin malignancies out of which $ 3.3 billion is spent on melanoma.
How does Melanoma develop?
Melanoma results from uncontrolled and defective growth of a type of skin cell called a melanocyte. Melanocytes account for the color of skin through the production of a dark pigment called “melanin”. More melanin in skin means more dark color. These cells are also responsible for the development of moles. Exposure to prolonged and high doses of ultraviolet (UV) radiation leads to DNA damage in melanocytes. Most cases of melanoma are related to UV damage by the sun. UV damaged cells start reproducing in an unchecked way leading to malignancy. Genetic mutations running in families can also contribute to the development of melanoma. A previous history of melanoma in the family increases the chances of developing the disease many fold.
Who Is At Risk?
Followings are the risk factors associated with melanoma;
Fair Skin Color
Increased exposure to the sun- Risk doubles for those with more than 5
Living in Australia, North America, and Europe
Age approaching the 70s
Family history of melanoma
Presence of moles
Avoiding the avoidable- This is the key practice to prevent melanoma. One can’t change one’s genetic makeup but observe the following;
Reducing exposure to UV light
Avoid tanning procedures
Wear sunscreen of SPF at least 30
Avoid the sun between 10 am to 4 pm
When to See a Doctor?
Early signs of melanoma may include a newly developing mole near an existing
mole, or anywhere else in the body. A change in the color of a mole is suspicious too. Unlike the non-lethal benign mole, melanomas have irregular borders and different levels of pigmentation. They grow slowly over time and are somewhat funny looking spots as compared to symmetrical round mole. Favorite sites for melanoma in males are head, neck, and trunk region while in females they tend to develop on arms and legs.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If your doctor suspects a melanoma based on history and clinical examination, a biopsy will be advised. A biopsy is a procedure in which a small part of a lesion is removed by a physician for examination under a microscope by a pathologist.
Melanoma cells have a typical appearance that can be recognized by an
A biopsy for a suspected melanoma will either result in a diagnosis of a benign mole, an atypical mole or a malignant melanoma. Benign moles require no further treatment. Atypical moles, otherwise known as atypical melanocytic nevi need to be surgically removed completely. The treatment of malignant melanoma depends on characteristics including the depth of the melanoma. Thin melanomas are generally treated with wide excision of the melanoma with some surrounding normal skin. Thicker melanomas may require removal of some lymph nodes in the area of the melanoma in a procedure known as a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Once a diagnosis of melanoma is made, it will be important to be evaluated by a surgeon with expertise in the management of malignant melanoma. Some patients with more advanced melanoma may need to be seen by a medical oncologist and treated with immunotherapy following surgery.
Prognosis of the Disease
Early detection and treatment of melanoma is the single most important factor in limiting the course of the disease. Timely diagnosed and managed patients have a survival rate of 99% after 5 years. The survival rate drops with an increase in the depth of the lesion and delays in treatment.