Melanoma is cancer that attacks skin cells that produce the pigment melanin and spreads quite fast to other parts of the body. Melanoma may develop from an existing or a new mole. Unless treated, it may be fatal. Melanoma incidence has become higher; it is more frequent in women, although fatal outcome is prevalent in men.
It is considered that melanoma is caused by damaged melanocytes (skin cells that produce the pigment melanin) after being exposed to sunlight. Melanoma more often occurs in fair skin people. People exposed longer to the sunlight or those that live in sunny areas have higher risk. It has been reported that those who suffered severe burns in childhood, have double risk of developing melanoma. Genetic factors are not excluded.
Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, although it is most common where skin is sun-exposed. There are melanomas on “hidden” places (under a nail, between toes, genitals, palms, soles, scalp, mouth, digestive tract, urinary tract, eye) more often developing in people with darker skin. Some melanoma types spread on the skin in irregular form, flat or pigmented patches; some are dark moles that grow fast. In elderly, it can appear on the face in form of spots, like freckles, which is melanoma lentigo that develops for several years. If these are not eradicated, all of these melanoma types go deeper into the skin.
If you have a dark irregular and fast-growing spot, or if you have already a mole and see some of the following changes, check with your doctor:
- Growing mole
- Irregular and asymmetrical margins
- Itching, inflammation or redness
- Crusted skin surface
- Change in color
The best way to identify melanoma is to use the ABCDE list. The letters stand for the following: A – asymmetry (melanomas have asymmetrical shape), B – border (melanomas have irregular borders), C – color (melanomas have more than one color), D – diameter (melanomas are approx. 6mm wide), E –evolving (change of shape).
Skin Cancer Risk factors
- Long exposure to sun, UV radiation
- Fair skin Age – usually it develops after 50 years of age
- Tanning beds
- Weakened immune system
- Having many moles
- Family history of melanoma
Melanoma is treated if the cancer is superficially spread and duly diagnosed. You should regularly visit your doctor in the next 10 years, although the possible recurrence is expected within 5 years. If the melanoma is aggressive and penetrates deep beneath the skin, the prognosis is not quite optimistic. If it spreads to other parts of the body, the outcome is most often fatal.
To reduce the risk of developing melanoma you can:
- Avoid the sun and tanning beds
- Always wear a hat and cover your body, at least the shoulders and the neck
- Wear sunscreen – with an SPF of at least 15; if you're swimming, reapply every two hours or more often.