Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It is not the most common form, but it is very serious because it can spread quickly and be fatal if left unchecked. What is melanoma and how do you get it? Upon diagnosis, what are some of the treatments?
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. Cancer begins when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Melanoma usually occurs in a type of skin cell called melanocytes. Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin which gives our skin its brown or tan color. Exposure to the sun causes the melanocyte cells to produce more melanin, which darkens or tans the skin.
When cells turn cancerous, melanoma cells continue to produce melanin so are usually black or brown. They can start anywhere but typically appear on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women. Melanoma is also found on the neck, face, hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails.
What Are the Signs of Melanoma?
Unfortunately, in the early stages of melanoma, there may be no signs. It is important to watch for the first changes in the skin to detect melanoma.
- A new spot or mole on the body
- A change in color of a mole on the body
- A difference in the shape or size of a current spot or mole
- A sore or spot that becomes itchy, tender, or bleeds
- A sore that fails to heal
- A spot or a lump that looks shiny or waxy
- A flat, red spot that is scaly or rough
- A hard bump that bleeds
If you see any of these signs, see your doctor or dermatologist immediately.
What Are Some Risk Factors for Melanoma?
Several different risk factors may determine whether or not you get Melanoma. Some are genetic, and some are due to the environment. These risk factors include exposure to UV rays, moles, and a family history of this type of skin cancer. People with light skin, freckles, and fair hair are also at risk. A weakened immune system increases your risk for melanoma.
Different Stages of Melanoma
Like any cancer, melanoma has stages. This type of cancer has five stages.
- Stage 0 – This is when cancerous cells are found only in the outer layer of the epidermis. This phase is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body if it is detected.
- Stage 1 – This is when the primary cancer is very thin and only in the skin layer. It divides into subgroups A and B based on mitotic rate and thickness.
- Stage 2 – At this stage, it extends through the epidermis to the dermis layer of the skin. It has a higher chance of spreading. Stage 2 has subgroups A, B, and C depending on thickness.
- Stage 3 – Stage 3 is when the melanoma has entered the lymph system. These can be either the lymph nodes near the tumor or a site farther away. Subgroups A, B, and C are determined by whether or not cancer has ulceration and the size and number of lymph nodes that are involved.
- Stage 4 – Stage 4 is melanoma that has spread to the blood and other locations on the skin, soft tissue, or organs. It also has subgroups. M1a is when it has spread to distant sites. M1b is when it has spread to the lungs. M1c is when it has spread to other locations and also when doctors detect serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in the bloodstream.
How to Prevent Melanoma
Preventing this type of skin cancer doesn’t mean you have to stay completely out of the sun. In fact, a sensible exposure to the sun is essential to human health because it produces Vitamin D in the body. However, overexposure to the sun is dangerous. Avoiding excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the best way to prevent melanoma. Here are ways to stay safe.
- Avoid getting a sunburn. This fact is especially true for children. Even one severe sunburn as a child can increase your chance of skin cancer.
- Wear sunscreen. Get in the habit of wearing sunscreen every day, not just at the beach. The sunscreen should be at least SPF 15, with SPF 20 to SPF 30 being even better. Choose a brand with a 4 or 5 star UVA protection. Reapply every 2 hours
- Wear protective clothing and hats that keep the sun off your skin. This tip is especially important for people who work outdoors.
- Avoid peak sun hours from 11 AM to 3 PM. These are the hours that the sun is at its highest and the risk of overexposure greatest. Therefore, try to remain indoors or in the shade during this time.
Melanoma is a dangerous skin cancer that can be fatal. It is vital to take measures to prevent melanoma and watch for any changes on your skin that may indicate a problem. If you detect anything that makes you suspicious, make an appointment with your doctor right away.