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Melanoma

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancerous (malignant) tumor that begins in the melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce the skin coloring or protective pigment called melanin. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of sun rays. Melanoma cells still produce melanin, but the cells grow uncontrollably. This is why melanoma cancers have mixed shades of tan, brown and black skin cells.

Melanoma is usually curable in its early stages. However, in later stages, melanoma spreads to other parts of the body and the chances for a cure is less. Malignant melanoma is a rare type of cancer.

Melanoma can affect most parts of the body. Melanoma may begin in or near a mole or other dark spot in the skin. It is important to be familiar with your skin and the pattern or moles, freckles and "beauty marks". Pay close attention if the size of your moles, freckles or beauty marks change in color or shape. The most common site in women is on the legs. In men, the most common place is the back.

Melanoma is most common in women between the ages of 40 and 60. It is the most deadliest form of skin cancer.

What are the typical features of Melanoma?

The typical features are: a pigmented lesion with various color shades, an irregular raised surface, an irregular border with notching and ulceration of the surface of the skin.

Warning Signs of Melanoma

Some of the warning signs are:

  1. Asymmetry (one half of the spot does not match the other half)
  2. border irregularity (uneven or notched border)
  3. color (several colors or irregular pattern of colors)
  4. diameter (1/8 to 1/4 of an inch)

Risks of developing Melanoma

People who have the highest risk of developing melanoma have many moles, irregular moles, or large moles. People with relatives who have had melanoma are also at risk. People who have fair skin that burns and freckles easily are also at risk for developing melanoma.

The risk is also higher in places where there is intense year-round sunshine.

Types of Melanoma

There are four main types of Malignant Melanoma: The four main types are superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, and acral melanoma.

Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. Nodular melanoma is a much less common form of melanoma. It usually starts as a raised lesion that is dark black-blue or bluish-red, however some can lack color. Nodular melanomas account for approximately 15% of cases. Lentigo maligna melanoma is usually found on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and/or around the toenails. Acral melanoma is an uncommon type of melanoma. It is the most common type seen in nonwhite individuals. It usually occurs on the palms and soles. Sometimes it occurs on the vulva and vagina.

Another type of melanoma that is rare is ocular melanoma. Ocular melanoma occurs in the eye.

What causes Malignant Melanoma?

There is strong evidence that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage the skin and cause malignant melanoma.

How does the doctor diagnose Melanoma?

If you doctor suspects you have melanoma, he will refer you to a specialist.

The specialist may suggest an excision biopsy. This means that the mole will be removed, using a local anesthetic, and examined under the microscope to see if the cells are malignant.

Can Melanoma be treated?

Yes. Treatment for melanoma depends on the type of cancer, its location, and its stage. The most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery requires removal of part of the skin. Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer medications given intravenously or taken by mouth.

Melanoma treatments

Surgery is the usual treatment for malignant melanoma. Interferon may sometimes be used after surgery. Interferon may also be used to prevent melanoma recurring. Interferon, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be used to treat melanoma that has recurred or spread. The best weapon against melanoma is early detection and prompt removal. Research is going on all the time into new types of treatment.

Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking into consideration a number of factors including your general health, the type and size of the tumor, and whether it has spread.

Can Melanoma be prevented?

You can lower your risk for developing melanoma by avoiding exposure to intense sunlight.

Melanoma Statistics

  • In the United States, about 51,400 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year.
  • In the United States, about 7,800 people die from melanoma each year.
  • Since 1973, the incidence rate of melanoma has increased about 4% per year.

 

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