Although melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, it causes most skin cancer-related deaths. However, if detected and treated in its earliest stages, melanoma is often curable. Skin cancer affects one in five Americans, and more than 1 million new cases are diagnosed each year. Of these cases, more than 65,000 are melanoma, a cancer that claims nearly 11,000 lives each year.
Melanoma begins in cancer cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. The exact cause of all melanomas isn't clear, but exposure to UV radiation, from sunlight or tanning bed lamps greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma.
Melanoma Cancer Risk Factors:
Risk factors that may increase your risk for skin cancer are:
- Having a fair complexion
- History of sunburns
- Excessive sun exposures
- Presence of a large number of moles
- Family history of melanoma
- Advanced age
- Compromised immune system
Melanoma Cancer Signs:
The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, feel, or color of a mole. It can also appear as a new mole, which usually have a blacken area. A skin examination is often part of a routine checkup by a health care provider. People can also check their own skin for new growths or other changes. Changes in skin, such as a change in a mole, should be reported to the health care provider right away. The person maybe referred to a dermatologist who specializes in diseases of the skin.
Most public health information about melanoma stresses the ABCDE's of Melanoma.
A - Asymmetry – when half the mole does not match the other half.
B – Border- when the borders of the mole are ragged irregular.
C – Color – when the color of the mole varies throughout.
D – Diameter – if the diameter of the mole is greater than 6 mm.
E - Evolving – lesion that changes over time.
These guidelines are somewhat helpful, but the problem is that many normal moles are not completely symmetrical in their shape or color. This means that many spots, which seem to have one or more of the ABCDE's are in fact just ordinary moles and not melanomas. Additionally, some melanomas do not fit this description but may still be spotted by your dermatologist.
Melanoma Cancer Prevention:
The best way to prevent melanoma is to reduce the amount of time you spend in the sun. Use sunscreens (choose an SPF 15 or higher, put it on 30 minutes before going outside and follow product directions for reapplication). Finding shade and covering up; wear a shirt, hat and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Babies under six months of age should be completely shielded from direct sun exposure. Apply sunscreen to infants over six months of age, and teach older children to make applying sunscreen a regular habit before they go out to play. Avoiding the use of tanning beds or other artificial sunlight sources, tanning beds are not safe alternatives to the sun. When it comes to the early stages of the disease, the future is bright.
Melanoma Cancer Treatment:
Most people with thin, localized melanomas are cured by appropriate surgery. Early detection still remains the best weapon in fighting skin cancer. More treatments are available for more advanced disease. The cure rates continue to rise. Research has produced a greater understanding of melanoma, leading to the development of new drugs. Melanoma patients have a life long risk of developing new melanomas. If a melanoma was thick or had spread to nearby lymph nodes before treatment, there might be a risk of recurrence or metastasis, whereby the original melanoma spreads to surrounding skin or other areas of the body. These risks make follow-up appointments with your dermatologist essential. The earlier melanoma is detected, the better the prognosis.