Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, and it’s on the rise. In fact, melanoma rates have doubled in the last 30 years in the US. You can do a number of things to help prevent melanoma, including avoiding sun exposure and using sunscreen religiously. But sometimes, even the best efforts aren’t enough.
Don’t wait to get checked out if you’re worried about skin cancer. The sooner you catch it, the bigger your chances of successful treatment. Here’s an overview of what you need to know about melanoma.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a skin cancer type that arises from the cells that produce pigment, called melanocytes. Melanocytes can be seen in the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). Melanomas can occur anywhere on your body, but they’re most likely to develop in areas that have had exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as the sun or tanning beds.
While melanoma makes up only a small percentage of all skin cancers, it’s the most dangerous type. Its rates have been rising for the last several decades, and it’s now one of the most common cancers worldwide. There are more new melanoma cases than any other cancer combined each year.
After melanoma diagnosis, a patient can live up to 10 years or more with the disease. The five-year survival rate plummets to just 30% if the cancer spreads to other organs.
Stages of Melanoma
Once melanoma is diagnosed, your doctor will stage cancer to determine how far it has spread. There are four main stages of melanoma:
Stage 0: Cancer stays to the top layer of the skin and has not spread.
Stage I: Cancer has spread to the second layer of skin but is still less than 2mm thick.
Stage II: The cancer is more than 2mm thick but has not spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.
Stage III: It has spread to the lymph nodes but not to other organs.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs, such as the liver or lungs.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
The early signs of melanoma are usually easy to spot. Look for changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole or any new moles on your body.
If you have a mole that changes or notices any new moles, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately. Early detection is the best way to the successful treatment of melanoma.
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A mole that bleeds or oozes
- A mole that is painful or itchy
What Causes Melanoma?
UV light exposure is the leading cause of melanoma. The UV rays damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to the development of cancer. People who have a history of sunburns are at an increased risk for melanoma, as are those who have had exposure to UV light from tanning beds or lamps.
People with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV light, but melanoma can occur in people of all skin types. Having a large number of moles or abnormal moles also increases your risk.
Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, you’re still exposed to UV rays. These harmful rays can penetrate clouds and glass, so it’s essential to take precautions even on cloudy days or when you’re indoors.
Like other skin problems, such as varicose veins, melanoma is sometimes caused by lifestyle choices or environmental factors. Ensure to look for specialists who understand your unique condition and can recommend the best course of treatment for you. For example, many clinics offer solutions tailored to your specific condition for varicose veins treatment in Toronto.
How Is Melanoma Diagnosed?
If you have a suspicious mole, your doctor will likely perform a biopsy to check for cancerous cells. During the biopsy, a small tissue sample is removed and examined under a microscope. If melanoma is present, the sample will reveal abnormal cells.
Several different types of biopsies can be performed, and your doctor will choose the best one for you based on the location and size of the mole.
How Is Melanoma Treated?
Treatment for melanoma depends on several factors, including the stage of cancer, its location, and overall health. It differs from other skin problems, such as skin tags (see how is treated here).
In the early stages, melanoma is often treated with surgery to remove the cancerous cells. The surgery may be performed using a local anesthetic, which numbs the area around the tumor. For larger tumors or those that are difficult to reach, general anesthesia may be used.
After removing the cancerous tissue, you’ll likely need regular follow-up appointments to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. Your physician may also recommend periodic skin exams and mole checks.
For more advanced stages of melanoma, treatment options may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. These treatments are usually used in combination with surgery.
The best way to prevent melanoma is to protect yourself from UV light exposure. Below are preventive measures you can do to avoid exposing yourself to melanoma:
- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat outdoors.
- If you are spending time in the sun, choose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Look for water-resistant sunscreens and have an SPF of at least 30. Keep in mind to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including the backs of your hands, your ears, and your feet. Don’t forget to apply lip balm or Chapstick with sunscreen in it.
- When you’re indoors, take precautions to protect yourself from UV light exposure. Shut down the curtains or blinds during the day, and use sun lamps with UV filters.
- Remember, melanoma can occur in any part of your body, so you should perform regular self-exams to check for new or changing moles. If you notice anything suspicious, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Melanoma is a serious and deadly form of skin cancer. UV light exposure is the leading cause of melanoma, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Make sure to find surgeons who are specially trained in melanoma, such as Toronto Minor Surgery Center (TMSC). A team of board-certified plastic surgeons does melanoma surgery and treatment at TMSC.