INTRODUCTION: Melanoma is a malignancy in which cancererous cells form in the skin cells called melanocytes (cells that color the skin). It may also happen in the eye and is called intraocular or ocular melanoma; however it can occur any place on the body. It is the most dangerous of the common types of skin cancer and frequently appears as an enlarging coloured skin spot, usually occuring in adults, but it is occasionly found in children and adolescents. The disease is more aggressive than basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer.
CAUSE: Melanoma is caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and external factors such as ultraviolet exposure. Heavy exposure to the sun is the most important factor in development of the disease. UV radiation causes damage to the DNA of cells, typically thymine dimerization, which when unrepaired can create mutations in the cell’s genes. Genetic analysis has shown that 92% of all melanoma are caused by this indirect DNA damage. This however does NOT mean that sunburn is the cause of this cancer. It is one of the rarer types of skin cancer but causes the majority of skin cancer related deaths especially if it is found late. At this time, the causes are not fully understood.
TYPES: There are four types of melanoma–each with its own set of symptoms. (1)Superficial spreading melanoma: tiny lesions with irregular border and brown, red, white, blue or blue-black spots on trunk or limbs. (2)Nodular melanoma: shiny, firm, dome-shaped brown, black or pink bumps anywhere on skin. (3)Acral lentiginous melanoma: irregular brown to black flat lesions on palms, soles, tips of fingers or toes and mucous membranes; can also be a brown or black streak under a finger or toe nail. (4)Lentigo maligna melanoma: large brownish irregular spot with darker speckles on skin overly exposed to sun, particularly the face or arms.
SYMPTOMS: The key to treating this condition is recognizing symptoms early. Persons who spot any of the following signs should report them to their physician without delay: an existing mole or dark patch that is growing larger or is a newly growing mole with a ragged edge, a mole with a mixture of different shades of brown and black. Call your health care provider if you spot any signs of melanoma, particularly the following: If any existing skin growth changes in color, size, or texture, If an existing lesion develops pain, swelling, bleeding, or itching. Remember however that most melanomas have no symptoms when they are found.
TREATMENT: Successful treatment depends on a number of factors, including the patient’s general health and whether the condition has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs. After diagnosis and staging (the determination of the extent of the disease), the physician develops a treatment plan to fit each person’s needs and is usually directed at shrinking the tumor and improving symptoms.
Treating advanced (stage III) melanoma may require surgical removal of the tumors and any affected lymph nodes, followed by systemic or local chemotherapy with single or multiple drugs. In some instances, patients may live many months or even years with metastatic melanoma (depending on the aggressiveness of the treatment). An experimental treatment created at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health in the USA was used in advanced (metastatic) melanoma with moderate success.
PROGNOSIS: The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following. The stage of melanoma: whether cancer is found in the outer layer of skin only, or has spread to the lymph nodes and/or to other places in the body. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, the best treatment is to remove the cancerous tissue if possible.
The five-year survival rate for treated Stage III patients is about 60%, and both the cancer and the treatment often compromises quality of life. A licensed MD should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.
CONCLUSION: Melanoma is a malignant tumor of melanocytes which are found most often in skin but also in the bowel and the eye (uveal melanoma). It usually occurs as an irregular brown, black and/or red spot, or an existing mole that begins to change color, size or shape. The disease is more apt to be caused by intense exposure to sunlight in early life. They can be anywhere on your body and is rare in the Aboriginal, Asian and African races.
This condition, like other skin cancers, are only very rarely irritating to touch and often do not look bad at first. The most serious type of skin cancer, it is also the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. and accounts for almost three per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers each year. It ranks sixth in cancer incidence in males and seventh in females, and these incidences have doubled in the past decade.
Melanoma can affect people in their 20’s and 30’s but the average age at the time of diagnosis is between 55 to 57 and is the most common cause of death from skin cancer. Approximately 160,000 new cases are found worldwide each year, and it is more frequently found in males and caucasians.
According to the WHO Report about 48 thousand melanoma related deaths occur worldwide annually. They are extremely dangerous and they kill thousands of Americans each yearly. Today, they are diagnosed only after they become visible on the skin. In the future, however, MDs will hopefully be able to detect them based on a patient’s genotype (The genetic constitution of a person), not just his or her phenotype (The total physical, biochemical, and physiologic makeup of an individual).
The most important way to prevent it is to limit your sun exposure while routine examination of the skin by both you and your physician increases the chance of finding this condition early should you develop it.
Author: Ricardo HenriThis author has published 17 articles so far.