Melanoma – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

melanomaMelanoma is a serious type of skin cancer. It develops in the cells called melanocytes. These cells produce melanin, the pigment that gives color to your skin. This cancer can develop in the eyes also and rarely in the internal organs such as intestines.

In women, it commonly occurs in the legs and in men, mostly on the back. The main cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet light. Some develop from a mole as well. It occurs more commonly in men than women.

Symptoms of Melanoma

Early symptoms include changes to shape or color of existing mole or a lump in the skin. The mole may itch, bleed or ulcerate in the later stages. Characteristics of unusual moles are as follows:

  • Asymmetrical shaped moles
  • Borders with irregular edges and corners
  • Changes in color
  • Diameter – If the mole is larger than 6mm
  • Evolving over time

The above only indicate the early signs. Characteristics of malign moles are

  • Growing
  • Firm to touch
  • Elevated above the skin surface

Causes

Skin cells undergo regeneration. This regeneration occurs in a controlled and orderly way, new cells push old cells to the skin surface where they die and fall off. Due to development of DNA damage in few cells, the growth of new cells get out of control leading to melanomas. DNA damage might occur due to exposure to UV light and also due to genetics.

UV radiation from the sun, from tanning lamps and bed is the main cause of melanomas. Melanoma susceptibility may increase due to rare mutations which run in families most often. Risk factors like fair skin, history of sunburn, excessive exposure to UV light, having many moles and a family history of melanoma increases the chances of melanomas.

Diagnosis

Simply looking at your skin will help in detecting cancer. But the accurate way of diagnosing cancer is by biopsy. Different biopsy procedures are available which inlude:

  • Punch Biopsy – Doctor uses a tool with a circular blade to remove a round piece of skin from a suspicious mole.
  • Excisional Biopsy – Entire mole is removed
  • Incisional biopsy – Only the irregular part of the mole is removed and taken for laboratory analysis.

The type of biopsy procedure depends on your situation. Mostly punch and excisional biopsy is preferred than incisional biopsy.

Treatment

For early stage skin cancers, surgery is the only option. A thin melanoma is usually removed during biopsy and requires no further treatment. Otherwise, your surgeon will remove the cancer as well as a border of normal skin and a layer of tissue beneath the skin.

Additional treatments may be recommended before or after surgery in case of invasive cancers. These treatments are as follows:

  1. Chemotherapy – In this therapy, drugs are given to destroy cancerous cells. It is normally given intravenously. Sometimes, chemotherapy is given in a vein of an arm or leg. In such cases, blood doesn’t flow from the leg or arm other parts of the body. The chemotherapy drugs travel directly to the affected area without affecting other parts.
  2. Radiation therapy – This therapy uses high energy beams to kill cancerous cells and recommended after surgery to remove lymph nodes.
  3. Biological therapy – This therapy boosts your immune system to help fight cancer. Biological therapies used to treat melanoma include interferon and interleukin-2, ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).
  4. Targeted therapy – Medications are given to target the specific vulnerabilities of the cancerous cells. This therapy is effective only when the cancer is due to genetic mutations. Side effects vary and may include fever, chills, dehydration and skin problems.

Prevention

Avoid exposure to UV radiation

Avoid going out during the middle of the day when the sun radiation is strongest without protective clothing. Apply sunscreen more often helps to reduce the risk of sin cancers. Avoid excessive use of tanning lamps and beds.

Examine your skin regularly

Check your skin regularly for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks. Examine all the parts including your buttocks and genital area regularly fro any irregular changes in the skin.

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