Melanoma is the 19th most common type of cancer worldwide. Cutaneous melanoma is the most common subtype of melanoma that accounts for more than 90% of the cases.

Did you notice a new mole on your skin while taking a shower? Does this mole look abnormal? And did you panic, wondering if this is a sign of skin cancer? If you want to know if this mole is cancerous and the different treatments available for treating melanoma, read on!

Table Of Contents

  • What Is Melanoma?
  • Types Of Melanoma
  • Stages Of Melanoma
  • Signs And Symptoms
  • Causes And Risk Factors
  • Diagnosis
  • How To Treat Melanoma
  • Side Effects Of Melanoma Treatment
  • Vitamin D And Sun Protection After Melanoma
  • Tips To Lower Your Risk For Melanoma

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer. It develops in the cells responsible for producing melanin. Melanin is the pigment that determines the color of your skin.

Melanoma can also form in your eyes. In rare cases, it may also affect your internal organs, such as your intestines.

The risk of melanoma is increasing in individuals below 40 years of age. This is especially true in the case of women.

There are mainly four types of melanoma.

Types Of Melanoma

The different types of melanoma are:

  • Superficial Spreading Melanoma – This is the most common type of melanoma that commonly affects the arms, legs, chest, and back.
  • Nodular Melanoma – It is the second most common type of melanoma and can spread quickly compared to other melanomas. Nodular melanoma is likely to lose color as it grows, turning red from black.
  • Lentigo Maligna Melanoma – It is often found in older people who have had a lot of exposure to the sun over the years. It is less common and is mostly found on the face and neck. It is a result of a progressing precancerous condition called lentigo maligna or Hutchinson’s melanotic freckle and looks like a stain on the skin.
  • Acral Lentiginous Melanoma – This is the rarest type of melanoma that may be found on the palms, soles of the feet, or under the nails. This type is more common among people whose skin tone is brown or black.

Depending on how far the cancer has spread and what kind of treatment is best suited to cure it, melanoma can be classified into different stages.

Melanoma Facts

  • Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
  • Melanoma does not just affect the skin. It can also occur in your eyes, scalp, nails, feet, mouth, etc.
  • Melanoma is the leading cause of death in young women aged 25-30.
  • About 90% of melanomas are believed to be caused by exposure to the sun.
  • Just one blistering sunburn can double a person’s risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Stages Of Melanoma

Melanoma can be classified into five stages. They are:

  • Stage 0 – The cancer is confined to the outermost layer of the skin. It is known as melanoma in situ.
  • Stage 1 – The cancer has progressed to Stage 1 if it is 2 mm thick. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or other sites, and the cancer may or may not be ulcerated.
  • Stage 2 – In this stage, the cancer will at least be 1.01 mm thick and may progress to being thicker than 4 mm.
  • Stage 3 – By the time cancer reaches this stage, it would have spread to one or more of the lymph nodes or the lymphatic channels nearby. The original cancer may not be visible anymore. But if it is visible, it will be thicker than 4 mm and may even be ulcerated.
  • Stage 4 – In this stage, the cancer progresses and would have spread to the nearby as well as distant lymph nodes or organs like the brain, lungs, and/or liver.

As in the case of almost all other cancers, melanoma can be quite difficult to detect in its early stages. Hence, it is important to keep checking your skin actively for changing signs.

The common signs and symptoms that may be exhibited in those who have melanoma are discussed below.

Signs And Symptoms

Any change in the appearance of your skin is one of the main indicators of melanoma. This may include:

  • Appearance of a new spot or mole
  • Changes in the shape, color, or size of an existing spot/mole
  • The spot or mole has become painful, itchy, tender, or has started bleeding
  • Any spot/lump that has begun to look shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale
  • Appearance of a red lump that either bleeds or appears ulcerated/crusty
  • A spot that is flat and red with a rough, dry, or scaly surface

The above symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have melanoma. They could also be a result of other conditions. However, it is better to consult a doctor to rule out the possibility of melanoma.

Research is ongoing to find out the exact cause of melanoma. However, some factors are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.

Causes And Risk Factors

Abnormal melanocytes are one of the main causes of melanoma. These melanin-producing cells are responsible for giving your skin its color.

Usually, your skin cells develop in an orderly way, where the new cells push the old ones to the surface. The old cells die and eventually fall off the surface of your skin. However, when cells act abnormally, they can grow out of control, eventually forming a mass of cancerous cells.

While what exactly damages the DNA in skin cells and how this can lead to melanoma isn’t clear, it is quite likely that a combination of environmental and genetic factors could be triggering it.

Some factors that can increase your risk of developing melanoma are:

  • Fair Skin: Fair complexion is an indication that your skin has less melanin. If you have blonde or red hair and light-colored eyes and develop a sunburn easily, you are at a higher risk of developing melanoma as compared to those with darker complexions.
  • History of sunburn
  • Excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning lights/beds
  • If you live at a high altitude or closer to the equator, your chances of developing melanoma are higher.
  • A family history of melanoma
  • A weakened immune system
  • Advancing age

If you can relate to any of the above risk factors and have developed any of the symptoms discussed here, waste no time in seeing a doctor or dermatologist to find out the root cause of these changes.

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