There are three types of skin cancer, with melanoma being the most dangerous. Though more uncommon than the other two, melanoma is the one most likely to spread and can lead to death. As with all skin cancer, exposure to the sun is the biggest cause of the disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the United States alone there are more than 62,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed every year. Out of these cases, 7,900 people will die from the disease. Learn the facts pertaining to melanoma and its causes, symptoms and treatments.
Melanoma is the worse type of skin cancer. Not only can it affect areas of the skin, it's able to spread to other organs in the body as well as the bones. The cause of melanoma is basically exposing yourself to too much sun. The normal skin cells turn abnormal, growing quickly, and then attack the tissues surrounding them.
People who have a history of melanoma in their families are at a higher risk of developing the disease. If people in your family have a history of many moles, this too can make you more prone to getting melanoma. Though the moles themselves do not cause melanoma, having a multitude of them can be a sign that melanoma runs in your family.
The basic sign of melanoma is the change in size or shape of a mole or birthmark you already have. Though melanoma can grow inside an already existing mole or birthmark, they usually show up on unmarked skin. Melanoma can show up on any place on your body, but most frequently are found on a woman's legs and the upper portion of the back in males.
An existing mole may show signs of melanoma by thickening when it originally was flat. The surface of the mole may become scaly and crusty, or may ooze and bleed. The skin surrounding the mole may emit a burning sensation and become red, swollen and itchy. It's not unlikely for the affected area to have skin that breaks off into small pieces.
As melanoma develops into the later and worse stages, the affected area may break and bleeding will occur as well as pain. When melanoma has entered into the metastasized stage, the lymph nodes in the armpits or groin may become swollen. There may also be a colorless lump that appears underneath the skin. Other symptoms of this stage are weight loss that cannot be explained, graying of the skin, a chronic cough as well as headaches.
It's very important to seek medical attention immediately if you notice a change in a mole or develop a suspicious-looking area on your skin. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential when dealing with melanoma. If your doctor suspects you might have melanoma, a biopsy will be taken of the suspicious area and sent to a pathologist for examination.
If your melanoma is larger than 1 mm thick, your lymph nodes will be checked to see if the cancer has spread there. A lymph node biopsy may be done if it's suspected to have spread to the lymph system. Another test to see if the melanoma has spread to this system is a sentinel lymph node biopsy. If it's thought that the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, image testing may be done. These tests include a PET scan, CT scan or MRI. These types of tests will be able to determine if the cancer has spread to areas such as the lungs, brain or other organs.
Treating melanoma will depend on what stage the disease is in. There are five stages of melanoma, each one worse than the other. In stage 0, the melanoma has only affected the outer layer of skin. In this stage, it's possible to eliminate the cancer by surgically removing the affected area of skin. In stage 1, the melanoma area is a bit bigger than in stage 0, but more than likely can be treated in the same fashion.
In stage II melanoma, the cancer has grown bigger than 1 mm thick, but may have not yet spread to the lymph nodes. If this is the case, surgery is the most common treatment. You may also go through a lymph node biopsy and be given a medication called interferon. In stage III melanoma, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and has become more serious. The treatment will call for surgically removing the melanoma as well as all the lymph nodes in the surrounding area. The person will then be put on interferon, otherwise known as immunotherapy. The interferon kills the cancer cells while boosting the immune system of the body.
Stage IV melanoma is the worse-case scenario of this disease. Treatments may include radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Since stage IV melanoma means the cancer has spread throughout the body, treatment will not be looking to cure the disease, but rather help the patient deal with the symptoms of it.
The best way to prevent any skin cancer, as well as melanoma, is to stay out of the sun and its harmful rays. For most, this is not totally possible. When outdoors in the sunlight, be smart. The sun's rays are most damaging between 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Try to limit your exposure during these hours. Wear a sunscreen that is at least a 15 SPF every time you go outside. Make sure to wear protective clothing when outside such as long-sleeved shirts, hats, sunglasses and long pants. If at all possible, avoid sunbathing all together as well as tanning booths. Check your body regularly for signs of changes in moles or other differences in areas of the skin. Above all, if you do notice a change in an area of your skin, seek out medical advice as soon as possible.