Melanoma: What You Need To Know

The most serious type of skin cancer, Melanoma is uncontrolled growth of Melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in the skin. While it is true that Melanoma can be cured when detected early, it can also be fatal if left untreated and allowed to spread.

Melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of all skin cancers. This number may seem low, but it has been reported that the number of cases in the United States has been rapidly increasing over the past 30 years.  Lets examine some key statistics from the American Cancer Society:

  • An estimated 76,380 new cases of Melanoma will be diagnosed in 2016. About 46,870 of these cases will be in men while 29,510 will be in women.
  • An estimated 10,130 people will lose their lives to Melanoma. About 6,750 of these cases will be in men while 3,380 will be in women.
  • The average age of people diagnosed is 63, however, it is not uncommon among those younger than 30.

Melanoma can be a terrifying diagnosis for anyone to receive. But understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options can ensure an excellent chance of survival.

What are the Risk Factors of Melanoma?

Let us emphasize that everyone is susceptible to melanoma, but some people are at higher risk. For example, the American Cancer Society explains that Melanoma is about 20 times more common in Caucasians than in African Americans due to the skin pigmentation.

There are several factors to be aware of that can increases your likelihood of developing melanoma:

  • Possessing fair skin, light eyes, or blonde or red hair
  • Older age
  • Having family history of skin cancer
  • Having a previous diagnosis of other skin cancers

Another important factor in developing skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation from the sun, sunlamps or tanning booths. Try to avoid exposure by wearing protective clothing, sunscreen and avoiding midday sun exposure will minimize your risk for developing skin cancer.

When consulting with your dermatologist, it is important to have a clear and concise understanding of your family’s medical history regarding cancer, as well as how your skin reacts to sun exposure.

How do I detect Melanoma?

In its early stages, melanoma begins as an unusual appearing or new mole that begins to morph abnormally over time. This includes increasing in size, changing colors, and developing an irregular shape.  These moles are usually black or dark brown; however, some have been reported as red, purple, blue and even white.

Can Melanoma spread?

Melanoma is a highly dangerous form of skin cancer due to its ability to spread rapidly if left untreated. If it is left unchecked, melanoma can potentially spread to other parts of the skin and body such as through the blood vessels or lymph nodes. When melanoma is able to spread to different parts of the body, you may begin experiencing symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight loss, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain.

How is Melanoma Diagnosed?

Melanoma is diagnosed by a skin or tissue biopsy. In this procedure, a piece of the suspicious skin is removed and examined under a microscope. Your dermatologist may also perform a sentinel node biopsy to check to see if the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes. Doing so will allow your Dermatologist to decide an appropriate course of action for treatment.

Can Melanoma be treated?

The good news is that melanoma is highly treatable if it is diagnosed at an early stage. Unfortunately, death can occur in advanced stages after it has spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs.

Early stages of melanoma can be treated with surgery alone. But advanced melanoma requires treatment beyond removal of the melanoma and surrounding lymph nodes. Some of these treatments may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy.

We encourage individuals to perform monthly self-skin examinations, report new and changing skin lesions, and see your dermatologist for an annual skin check.

At Short Hills Dermatology, we recommend and offer regular, annual check ups to lower your risks of developing Melanoma. We find that melanoma is best detected by regularly screenings for new or changing moles, as well as consulting a professional dermatologist. Doing so will greatly reduce your chances of developing a serious case of skin cancer.

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