Melanoma is a malignant tumor that emanates from the melanocytes. Melanocytes are the skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment that bestows the color of our skin, hair and eyes. Melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer and, if left untreated, can infect other parts of the body where treatment is problematic and can often prove fatal. However, if the disease is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, it is usually curable.
All people are at a certain risk for melanoma, but this possibility increases with increased sun exposure and the presence of moles. One's skin type and family history can also increase the risk of melanoma. Melanoma of the scalp is considered a hidden type of cancer, as the lesion cannot be spotted easily and it is also difficult to examine. The symptoms do not develop until the cancer has advanced and hence almost fatal. It is therefore important to inspect the scalp at regular intervals for any unusual signs.
ABCD Detection Method
Melanoma lesions follow what is called the ABCD of melanoma detection. The lesion is Asymmetrical, Border is irregular, Color variation is present and Diameter is more than 6 mm. The definitive sign is any pigmented area that has recently come up or changed in appearance, or which has begun bleeding or become ulcerated.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Nancy Thomas and other researchers associated with the Archives of Dermatology has concluded that melanoma of the scalp and neck is more deadly than melanoma on other parts of the body. Those with this specific locations of melanoma were almost twice as likely to die within five years as others who have a lesions in the arm, leg or other locations.
Diagnosis and Common Treatments
Diagnosis is usually done through biopsy. This procedure calls for removal of the lesion and a portion of the surrounding tissue for laboratory investigation.
Treatment depends on the stage at which the disease is detected. If the disease is detected in the earlier stages, the prognosis is excellent. Skin cancer due to sun exposure is treated by laser resurfacing or the application of Efudex cream. This type of cancer may also be treated by TriChloroacetic Acid (TCA) skin peels, a medical grade chemical peel known to be safe enough for home use.
Treatment for Serious Cases
For more serious cases, the lesion is surgically removed and recovery can be total. If the lesion is thicker and there is the possibility that other organs could be infected or at risk, then a more elaborate treatment procedure is needed, involving physical examination, imaging and detailed laboratory investigations. If there is no symptom of metastasis (the spread of the cancer to other distant locations), then surgery consists of excision of the tumor and even the removal of the lymph nodes in the neck area, which may be at risk. In more advanced stages of melanoma, chemotherapy is used in the form of drugs or injections to destroy the cancerous cells. The last stages dictate the use of biological and radiation therapy.