Melanoma is a severe type of skin cancer that develops in the cells that produce melanin. Melanoma accounts for about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large number of skin cancer related deaths. Melanoma can also form in the eyes and, in rare cases, the intestines. It can affect people of all ages but tends to be more common in the elderly. Women are also more likely to suffer from melanoma than men. If detected early, melanoma can be treated successfully.
Causes of Melanoma
The exact cause of melanoma is not known, but exposure to the sun can increase a person’s chances of getting it. Natural sunlight and tanning beds are believed to increase the risks of melanoma, as is exposure to radiation. Some other common causes and risk factors include:
- History of severe sunburns
- Fair skin (20 times more common in whites than African Americans)
- Living closer to the equator
- Living at a higher elevation
- Having many moles
- Weak immune system
- Family history of melanoma
Symptoms of Melanoma
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body and often starts as a small brown spot. Some melanomas look like moles but soon start to change their shape and size. Melanomas can even appear in areas of the body that aren’t exposed to much sun. Existing moles are a common place to melanoma to start, too. Moles might start changing and even become painful to touch. Other symptoms of melanoma include:
- Moles with irregular shapes
- Moles with irregular borders
- Moles that are changing color
- New moles that are large in diameter
- Moles that itch or bleed
Diagnosis of Melanoma
Doctor usually check their patients periodically for any signs of skin cancer, especially those who are at a higher risk for it. Patients who are concerned about their moles or feel they might have melanoma can be examined by a doctor, who will check the concerning spots on their bodies. The most common types of tests used to diagnose melanoma include:
Treatment of Melanoma
Treatment for melanoma depends on the stage of the disease and the overall health of the patient. Patients with early stages of melanoma can have the mole removed. If the disease is in later stages, other treatments might be required. These treatments include:
- Chemotherapy – This helps kill the cancer cells and stops them from spreading.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation is directed at the cancer to kill it.
- Biological Therapy – This helps boost the immune system, so it becomes stronger and is able to fight the cancer better.
- Targeted Therapy – This targets the vulnerabilities in cancer cells to help kill them faster.
- Preventative Care – This treatment focuses on preventing new melanomas from forming on the body.
Prognosis of Melanoma
People who have routine melanoma scans are much more likely to catch the disease in the early stages and beat it. Melanoma is a dangerous form of cancer, and if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and become fatal. Patients who receive timely and appropriate treatment have a good prognosis. People who have had one melanoma are likely to have more. Any exposure to the sun puts them at risk for developing new melanomas.
- AJCC Cancer Staging Manual 8th edition 2017.