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Educate Yourself

Melanoma is the MOST dangerous form of skin cancer and is the leading cause of death from skin disease.” – US National Library of Medicine

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is caused by changes in cells, called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. (Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color.) Melanomas can appear on skin or often resemble moles, as some develop from moles, appearing brown or black but can also be skin-colored, red, purple, blue or white. Some moles present at birth may develop into melanomas. There are four basic types of melanoma:

·         Superficial spreading melanoma (most common)

·         Nodular melanoma.

·         Lentigo maligna melanoma (usually occurs in elderly)

·         Acral lentiginous melanoma (least common form)

What are the Causes / Risks of Melanoma?

Although Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer, the rate is increasing. The associated risk increases with age, however not uncommon in young people.

You are likely to be susceptible to develop melanoma if you have fair skin, light eyes, red or blonde hair, live in sunny climates, spend time in the sun during peak hours, experienced blistering sunburns from childhood or use tanning devices. Other risk factors involve family history of melanoma, certain mole types or weakened immune systems.

Melanoma is caused primarily by intense, intermitted sun UV exposures, as well as those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. This frequent exposure initiates the development of cancerous growths when the unrepaired DNA damage (caused by sunburns) to skin cells triggers mutations. The vast multiplication of skin cells, forms malignant tumors that originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes, noted above.

Constant sun exposure has been declared as the leading cause of skin cancer; however, recent medical researcher is currently refuting this theory.  

What are the symptoms?

Melanoma can grow in a mole, pre-existing birthmark or unmarked skin. They form anywhere on your body but are frequently found on the upper back of both men and women or on the legs of women.

Some of the physical characteristics of Melanoma include:

·        Flat, brown or black mole with uneven edges ;

·        Irregular or asymmetrical shape;

·         Vary in size, but they are usually 6 mm (0.25 in.) or larger;

·         Change color, size, or the shape of its border;

·         Lumpy or rounded; and

·         May become crusty, ooze, or bleed.

Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless. However get to know your skin very well because this is not always the case. Look for the “ABCDE signs of Melanoma”:

A- Asymmetry  Draw a line through the mole, the two halves will not match.

B-Border Borders of early melanoma tend to be uneven.

C- Color Variety of colors is another warning sign.

D – Diameter Melanomas are usually larger than a size of an eraser on a pencil, but can be smaller when first detected.

E- Evolving Any change in size, shape and color or additional traits to mole should be considered.

How is Melanoma diagnosed?

Melanoma is often detected through an annual skin screening with your doctor, looking for growths by performing a complete examination of the entire skin surface.  People often detect melanoma themselves, while doing a regular skin examination. Early diagnosis would be almost 100% curable if all skin cancers were found and treated early.

biopsy performed by your doctor is the only definitive way to determine if you have melanoma. Once the sample is removed, a specialist, called a pathologist, examines it for cancer cells under a microscope.

Several biopsies can be preformed when the doctor suspects melanoma:

·        Excisional Biopsy

·        Incisional Biopsy

·        Punch Biopsy

·        Saucerization Biopsy

·        Fine-needle Aspiration Biopsy

Following your biopsy, your doctor will inform you of the results as well as any additional steps required.

 How is it treated?

The stage of the disease, individual’s age, health and other factors are taken into consideration when a doctor considers a treatment. Individualized, unique treatment plans are developed for each patient. Treatment often requires a team of specialists to include:

·        A dermatologic surgeon

·        A surgeon

·        A plastic and reconstructive surgeon

·        A medical oncologist

Once the plan is created, some people prefer to get a second opinion on the diagnosis and treatment for suggestions. This can be especially imperative for those who have an advanced stage of Melanoma.

There are four kinds of treatment for most skin cancers:

·        Surgery

·        Chemotherapy

·        Biological Therapy

·        Radiation Therapy

If the excisional biopsy does not remove the cancer completely, the next treatment is surgery. This involves the extraction of healthy tissue around the cancerous area to avoid left behind cancer cells. Removal of this tissue depends on the size and thickness of the melanoma.

Chemotherapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy may be used after surgery to kill the remaining cancer cells in the body or are used in other advanced stages of melanoma. There are additional options for experimental therapies. All options should be discussed with your doctor to find what treatments would be appropriate for you.

Following any treatment, you should see the doctor for regular check-ups.

Can you prevent Melanoma?

“You are likely to receive 80% of your lifetime sun exposure during the first 18 years of life.” Melanoma Center

Melanoma cannot be prevented with 100% certainty due to the genetic risk factors. However the risk factors are well-known and awareness of hereditary and environmental risk will allow for you to significantly reduce your risk of developing melanoma.

UV radiation is at its highest between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The most effective way to protect your skin is STAY OUT OF THE SUN! Although this may be unavoidable, here a few tips:

·         Seek shade Find an umbreall, large tree or some sort of shelter to avoid direct contact with UV rays.

·         Cover up  Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses offer protection against UV radiation.

·         Glob on sunscreen Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 on all skin exposed.

You are never too old or too young to protect yourself so, be proud to be pale!

Check your skin every month for odd marks, moles, or sores that will not heal. Pay extra attention to areas that get a lot of sun, such as your hands, arms, and back. Ask your doctor to check your skin during regular physical exams or at least once a year. Even though the biggest cause of Melanoma is spending too much time in the sun, it can be found on parts of your body that never see the sun.


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