On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. This year it is estimated that nearly 9,320 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 5,990 men and 3,330 women. Melanoma is one of the most severe forms of skin cancers and affects melanin-producing cells (melanocytes).
Although rare, melanoma is also reported in the eyes and small intestines. Arms and legs are the most common areas that are affected by melanoma, however, the occurrence is more prominent in men.
If melanoma is recognized and treated early, there is a strong possibility that it can be cured. If not, cancer can eventually spread to other parts of the body, where it can be hard to treat and become fatal. Knowing the causes and symptoms of melanoma can help lessen the risk of this disease becoming deadly.
Causes of Melanoma
Melanoma is a result of damage to genetic material from intense sunlight. In addition, genetic factors also play an important role in the development of the condition.
Ultra-violet (UV) radiation from direct and intense sunlight is one of the most common causes of melanoma. The UV radiation destroys the genetic material (DNA) in the cells. As a result, the ability of the cells to divide in an orderly manner is compromised. This gives rise to a mass of cancerous cells, leading to the development of melanoma.
Various factors have been involved in increasing the risk of developing melanoma. These include: mutations, insertions, and deletions of the base pairs in DNA. Aside from that, family history of melanoma is associated with an increased risk of melanoma in future generations. Since most of these mutations are acquired, chances are, immediate relatives or blood relations are more prone to developing melanoma.
Symptoms of Melanoma
Melanoma is more commonly developed on exposed body surfaces. These surfaces include: arms, legs, shoulders, and back. In dark-skinned individuals, melanoma can occur in even the most hidden places, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hand, and the back of the nails. Various symptoms are:
- Appearance of shiny, dark, and hard nodules on the skin called moles
- Physical change in an existing mole
- Presence of dark, irregular shaped, flat or elevated spots on the skin
- Appearance of large-sized mole (either existing or newly formed)
Characteristics of Moles
Usually the appearance of a mole is considered normal, however, a sudden change in the appearance of an existing mole or development of a spot/new mole is unusual and should be effectively diagnosed and treated.
Normal moles are regular in shape, uniformly colored, and are characterized by uniform and well-defined borders that separate the mole from the skin. The size ranges from 6-8 mm in diameter. More than 35 moles can appear in a human body.
Melanoma moles initially develop as normal moles, however, the following criteria (ABCD) are used to distinguish the normal mole from melanoma mole:
- Asymmetrical Shape
Unlike normal moles, melanoma moles are irregular in shape. Most of these moles have non-uniform halves.
Presence of a scalloped or irregular border is the typical distinguishing feature of melanoma moles.
Unlike normal moles that are either black or brown in color, melanoma or unusual moles are multi-colored. Most of these moles have non-uniform distribution or scattered color.
- Evolving Nature
Unusual moles are ever-changing. The change is apparent in terms of their size, physical appearance, and color. In addition, other changes in these moles include: oozing, itching, or even bleeding.
Treatment Options for Melanoma
Melanomas are usually treated with the conventional treatment strategies used for cancer, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, etc. However, early-stage melanomas can be treated with various drugs and surgery.
Dabrafenib and vemurafenib are used in severe forms of melanoma. These drugs are effective in melanomas that result from genetic mutations.
Melanomas that are in close proximity to vital organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes, etc. typically call for surgical intervention.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
While chemotherapy involves the use of drugs, radiation therapy includes X-rays to destroy the cancerous mass of cells.
Complications Associated with Melanoma Treatment
Some of the most common complications associated with melanoma include:
- Post-surgery scarring
- Nausea and dizziness during chemotherapy and surgery
- Constipation and diarrhea
Alternative Treatments for Melanoma
The following are some of the most common alternative treatment strategies used for melanoma.
Nutrition therapy includes increased intake of antioxidants, flavonoids, and spices.
Various treatment strategies have been used in the management and prevention of melanoma. Always make sure to wear your sunscreen, wear light and loose fitted clothing, and spend some time in the shade. As always, make sure to consult with your doctor to determine the best treatment option for you.
How is melanoma treated?
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