One of the most dangerous forms of cancer is melanoma—a type of skin cancer that can be very aggressive, especially in its later stages. Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers. However, it is much more dangerous if it is not found early. It causes the majority (75%) of deaths related to skin cancer.
The most dangerous form of skin cancer, these cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. Melanoma kills an estimated 8,790 people in the US annually per the SCF.
If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that at present, about 120,000 new cases of melanoma in the US are diagnosed in a year. In 2010, about 68,130 of these were invasive melanomas, with about 38,870 in males and 29,260 in women. Much more info about melanoma can be found at this site: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma.
In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck, according to the National Cancer Institute. In women, melanoma forms most often on the arms and legs. Melanoma is most common in adults, but it is sometimes found in children and adolescents. Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for melanoma include the following:
- Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
- Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
- Blue or green or other light-colored eyes.
- Red or blond hair.
- Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
- Being exposed to certain factors in the environment (in the air, your home or workplace, and your food and water). Some of the environmental risk factors for melanoma are radiation, solvents, vinyl chloride, and PCBs.
- Having a history of many blistering sunburns, especially as a child or teenager.
- Having several large or many small moles.
- Having a family history of unusual moles (atypical nevus syndrome).
- Having a family or personal history of melanoma.
- Being white.
- Having a weakened immune system.
- Having certain changes in the genes that are linked to melanoma.
According to the American Cancer Society, having darkly pigmented skin lowers your risk of melanoma at these more common sites, but anyone can develop this cancer on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails. Melanomas in these areas account for more than half of all melanomas in African Americans but fewer than 1 in 10 melanomas in whites. Melanomas can also form in other parts of your body such as the eyes, mouth, genitals and anal area, but these are much less common than melanoma of the skin. Find more info about melanoma at this website: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-what-is-melanoma.
Thinking of "ABCDE", according to the National Cancer Institute, can help you remember what to watch for:
- Asymmetry - the shape of one half does not match the other
- Border - the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular
- Color - the color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan
- Diameter - there is a change in size, usually an increase
- Evolving - the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months
Once melanoma has been diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Depending on your situation, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors may include:
- A dermatologist: a doctor who treats diseases of the skin.
- A surgical oncologist (or oncologic surgeon): a doctor who uses surgery to treat cancer.
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy.
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
You can make a difference in the fight against cancer by volunteering your time, participating in an event, or donating to the cause. Find out about all the ways you can get involved today. Find more details about treatment options at this site: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-treating-general-info.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), anyone can get melanoma. When found early and treated, the cure rate is nearly 100%. Allowed to grow, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can spread quickly. When melanoma spreads, it can be deadly. Dermatologists believe that the number of deaths from melanoma would be much lower if people:
- Knew the warning signs of melanoma.
- Learned how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer.
- Took the time to examine their skin.
Nothing to play around with, this disease is a killer. Make sure you see your doctor or a specialist if you have any questions about a possible melanoma or issue with a mole. Remember, waiting is not the answer. Do yourself a favor, and go get any possible skin problems checked out before you wait too long. If someone you know may have a problem, suggest they visit their primary care provider or an urgent care clinic. Taking preventive measures definitely pays off in this type of health care situation.
Until next time.