Melanoma Skin Cancer

A form of skin cancer that begins in the melanin-producing cells and commonly occurs in pigmented skin tissue such as moles – a form referred to as cutaneous melanoma. It can also affect several other pigmented tissues of the body.

Know more about Melanoma 

The skin is the largest organ in the body and, accordingly, has important functions such as providing protection against heat, injury, and infection. A major role is to protect us from damaging sun rays. This goal is accomplished by melanocytes, cells that sit at the bottom of the first layer of the skin (the epidermis) and make light-absorbing pigments (melanins) that give the skin its natural color.

Moles are commonly found on the skin and are made up of clusters of melanocytes in the epidermis and/or the dermis (the second layer of the skin). Most fair-skinned people have between 10 and 40 moles on their skin. Moles are typically less than a quarter of an inch in diameter, round or oval, and can be raised like a little dome, or flat. They vary in color, usually tan to dark brown, but can be black, pink, or even close to a person’s skin color.

The number of moles you have is a reflection of sun exposure and the genes you inherited. Moles are a risk factor for melanoma. Melanoma can develop from a mole as a lesion in a spotless area of the skin. Most moles do not become a melanoma; most stay benign, or non-cancerous. If you are ever worried about the appearance of a mole, you should see a dermatologist. Some warning signs that should make you seek help include a mole that appears to change in size, color, shape or that bleeds, oozes, itches, or becomes painful. No one can predict if one particular mole over another will develop into melanoma.

 

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancers can be divided into two subsections: melanoma and nonmelanoma. The most common forms of non-melanoma skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell. Non-melanoma skin cancers do not normally spread to other parts of the body and they are often treated with surgery alone.

Melanoma begins in a melanocyte that goes bad. Melanoma is considered to be the most “dangerous” form of skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body, including the internal organs.

While almost all melanomas develop on the skin surface and are referred to as cutaneous melanoma, melanoma can occur in any other part of the body where pigment-producing cells are found, including the mucous membranes and the eye. Up to eight types of melanomas have been identified. Among both men and women, melanoma is commonly diagnosed on the torso; and among women, melanoma is often found on the legs.   

Mucosal and ocular melanoma (melanoma of the eye and mucous membranes) are rare and not attributed to sun exposure. If mucosal and ocular melanoma spread, they are treated much like cutaneous melanoma.

 

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Men and women of all ages and races can get melanoma, but it is diagnosed more often in white men over 50 years old. Despite the fact that the majority of cases occur in older white men, melanoma has become the most common form of cancer diagnosed in young women, aged 20-29. While the exact cause of melanoma is not known, research has shown that up to 95% of melanoma is caused by exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Several risk factors also increase the chance that a person will develop melanoma. 

Ultraviolet (UV) radiationExposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds increases the risk of melanoma. Indoor tanning devices emit UV radiation as damaging as the sun. 

Sunburns: Overexposure to the sun at any time in one’s life is a critical risk factor. Always generously apply sunscreen and use caution in the sun.

Fair skin and freckles: Melanoma occurs more frequently in people with fair skin. Freckles are a measure of past sun exposure and mark a mild increase in risk for melanoma.

Light Hair and Eye color: The risk for melanoma is also higher for people with blue eyes and, especially, blond or red hair.

A large number of ordinary moles: People who have more than 50 moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma.

Dysplastic nevi (nevi are the medical term for moles; the singular is nevus): Abnormal moles (bigger than normal moles, flat or with a section that is flat, several shades of pigment, fuzzy, indistinct edges) are a bit more likely to become cancerous than ordinary moles. A person with a high number of abnormal moles has a higher risk of developing melanoma.

Previous melanoma: People who have been treated for one melanoma are at a higher risk of developing another melanoma.

A family history of melanoma: Melanoma can sometimes run in families; having two or more close family members who have melanoma is a strong risk factor.

Non-melanoma skin cancer: People who have had other kinds of skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing melanoma.

  

 FACTS AND FIGURES

• A recent analysis by the National Cancer Institute has shown an increase in melanoma rates among younger women. The increase is likely a result of women spending more time in the sun and going to tanning salons. 

• One death of melanoma occurs every hour. 

• The American Cancer Society has estimated 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017. About 9,730 people are estimated by the American Cancer Society in the US alone in 2017. 

• Accounting for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, Melanoma accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

• Majority of melanomas are caused by the UV of the sun and approximately 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, as per the results of a study in the UK.

• The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is at initial phases is about 98 percent in the U.S. The survival rate falls to 62 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes, and 18 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.  

• On an average, the risk for melanoma doubles if there are more than five sunburns occurrences in a person.

• Use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the chances of developing melanoma by 50 percent. and is also effective to bring down the chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent.

• Melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the age group of 15-29 and the chances of people under 30 having melanoma are increasing at a faster rate than any other demographic group, soaring by 50% in women since 1980.

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