Melanoma

According to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, melanoma is considered the deadliest form of skin cancer, even though it is the least common. The American Cancer Society’s latest studies show that this harrowing disease has been on the rise throughout the last 30 years. Melanoma is a serious form of cancer and is best treated when detected early. Take time now to educate yourself about the disease, learn how you can prevent it and discover the latest in treatment options.

Melanoma Symptoms

One of the first indications of Melanoma is a mole or spot on the skin that changes in shape, size or color. Also, a spot that looks uniquely different from your other freckles or moles is worth having checked out by a dermatologist.

The Mayo Clinic suggests a convenient way to assess whether a mole is considered worrisome or not by remembering the “ABCDE rule”:

  • A - stands for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles that have oddly shaped sides. If you have a mole with two sides that are quite different looking, this is a warning sign that you should have your mole looked at.
  • B - stands for an irregular border. If you have a mole with curled borders or irregular notches, than you should have your physician examine it more closely.
  • C - stands for changes in color. Moles with multiple colors are considered a red flag for melanoma.
  • D - stands for diameter. If you have a mole that is growing beyond six millimeters (mm), it would be worth having it checked out by your dermatologist.
  • E - stands for evolving. If your mole begins changing throughout time, perhaps becoming itchy or bleeding occasionally, it is very important to have it assessed right away.

Melanoma is a sneaky form of cancer that can be found in very unlikely places. It can crop up in areas on your body that rarely even see the sun. Be aware that melanoma can be found in peculiar spots, for example:

  • On the scalp
  • Between the toes
  • On the palms of your hands
  • Under your fingernails
  • In the mouth
  • Within the digestive tract
  • On your eyes

Melanoma is a deadly and stealthy form of cancer. If you have any of the signs or symptoms, be sure and contact your physician as soon as possible.

Causes of Melanoma

Though there is no direct cause of melanoma, there are many risk factors associated with the disease. Some risk factors are fixed, like age or gender, while some can be mitigated with lifestyle changes or modifications.

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light - Overexposure to ultraviolet light poses the greatest risk to developing melanoma.
  • Moles - If you have a large number of moles, or have a family history of irregular moles, your odds of developing melanoma increase. Be especially mindful of moles that are raised, multicolored, or defined by scalloped or uneven borders.
  • Coloring - The greater the amount of melanin in your skin, the greater your body’s ability to tan, which in turn blocks out the more damaging rays of the sun. Though anyone can develop skin cancer, if you have fair skin and light-colored hair, your body will sunburn faster than those with darker skin, putting you at a much higher risk for melanoma.
  • Family History - The American Cancer Society suggests that 10% of people with melanoma have a close family relative who has had the disease as well.
  • Age - Melanoma can be found in people of all ages, though it is considered one of the more common cancers for people under the age of 30.
  • Gender - In the United Sates, men run a higher risk of developing melanoma than women do. According to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, 1 in 57 men will develop melanoma, whereas only 1 in 81 in women will be diagnosed.
  • Previous Melanoma - If you have had melanoma in the past, you have a greater propensity for contracting it again.
  • Weakened Immune System - If you have a weak immune system, you face a greater risk for developing melanoma.
  • Skin Conditions - If you are suffering from other skin problems like exroderma pigmentosum (a rare inherited condition), you are placed at a higher risk for contracting melanoma.

Steps to Prevention

Even though melanoma can develop in odd or hidden places, there are some protective measures you can take in order to help prevent your chances of getting cancer:

  • Plan Wisely - Be conscious about your time spent in the sun. Try and limit your exposure time during the hottest times of day. If you plan to spend an extended amount of time outside, set up an umbrella to rest under.
  • Stay Protected - Make a strong effort to wear protective sun-gear such as sun glasses, UV protective shirts and sun hats.
  • Use Sunscreen - The body absorbs ultraviolet rays even through the clouds, so wear your sunscreen year-round. Remember that it is important to reapply, especially if you are swimming or sweating significantly.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds - By choosing to avoid tanning beds, you are avoiding extra exposure to UV radiation.
  • Know Your Body - If you have a family history of skin cancer, be proactive about your health. Take time to schedule consistent exams with your dermatologist and learn to do self-checks on your own body by being aware of any irregular skin growths.

Treatment Options

Treatment for melanoma will vary depending on:

  • How old you are
  • What stage your cancer is in
  • An assessment of your overall health

If your melanoma is in the earliest stage, it is possible, that if isolated, the cancerous area may be completely removed during a biopsy. Although, if your cancer has extended beyond the borders of your skin, then further action may be required.

Here are some further treatment options for melanoma:

  • Surgery - If your melanoma is located near lymph nodes, it is possible that it might become necessary to have them surgically removed them in order to prevent further spread of cancer.
  • Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy uses medication to target cancer cells and destroy them.
  • Biological Therapy - This type of therapy is used to boost the immune system and give the body a better chance at fighting back against the cancer. Unfortunately the side effects of this type of treatment include major flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue.
  • Radiation Therapy – With radiation therapy, X-rays or other high-energy beams are used to target and kill cancer cells. This type of treatment is often used when cancer has spread to other organs in the body.
  • Targeted Therapy - This type of treatment involves using drugs that specifically target the vulnerable places within cancer cells. It is typically prescribed for patients with advanced or end-stage melanoma, where surgery is no longer an option.
  • Clinical Trials - If you are willing to weigh the risks and be involved in helping find new ways to prevent cancer, you might consider speaking to your doctor about clinical research trials that are available.

Coping with Melanoma

Battling cancer is a draining journey that takes its toll on your mind, body, and spirit. Here are some ways to find support and cope in the midst of illness:

Medical Support

The best way to protect your body against cancer is by committing to quality healthcare. Thanks to so many advances in modern medicine, you are no longer limited to one option or one doctor. Do your own research and find out the best fit for you.

Mental Support

The physical body goes through a lot when fighting cancer, but so does your mind. Take the plunge and join a support group, visit a counselor or talk things out with a trusted friend. Sometimes just having someone listen can mean the world, especially during a difficult time.

Physical Support

Going through cancer might leave you feeling more exhausted than usual, so allow plenty of time for rest and healing. Make an effort to eat healthy and nutritious meals, and if possible, continue to exercise as your body allows.

Melanoma Resources

The following list provides resources for further information on Melanoma:

  • American Academy of Dermatology
    930 E. Woodfield Road
    Schaumburg, IL 60173
    847-330-0230
    www.aad.org
  • Melanoma Research Foundation
    1411 K Street NW, Suite 500
    Washington, DC 20005
    202-347-9675
    www.melanoma.org
  • Melanoma Research Alliance
    1101 New York Avenue NW, Suite 620
    Washington, DC 20005
    202-336-8935
    www.curemelanoma.org
  • Melanoma International Foundation
    250 Mapleflower Road
    Glenmoore, PA 19343
    866-463-6663
    www.melanomainternational.org
  • Skin Cancer Foundation
    149 Madison Avenue, Suite 901
    New York, NY 10016
    212-725-5176
    www.skincancer.org