Elisabetta Liotta, MDdid the medical review of this document
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so it makes sense that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. But did you know that rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are on the rise for women?
More than 39,000 women she will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. And if these stats have you racing to get your sunscreen, here’s more to know about melanoma symptoms and how to protect your skin.
What is melanoma and what are its causes?
Melanoma, also called cutaneous melanoma, is the more serious type of skin cancer. It occurs when melanocytes, the cells that give skin its color, become damaged and grow out of control. Unlike other types of skin cancer, this one can spread rapidly to other parts of the body.
There are three types of cells that make up the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. He squamous cell carcinoma it is cancer in the top layer of skin. It usually occurs on the areas of the body most exposed to the sun. They can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It grows slowly and does not tend to spread to other areas. Melanocytes are found in the bottom layer and, in addition to producing melanin, the substance in the body that produces hair, eyes and skin color, they are also useful for protecting the deeper layers of skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
There are four types of melanomas:
- Superficial spreading melanoma: The most common form, commonly found on the legs and upper back in women. It usually looks flat and discolored.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma: It commonly appears in the elderly and is similar to that that spreads superficially, having a flat appearance with blue-black, white, or reddish-brown patches.
- Acro lentiginous melanoma: The most common melanoma in black people, appearing black or brown. It can appear under the nails, on the palms of the hands or on the soles of the feet.
- Nodular melanoma: This is the most aggressive form of melanoma and tends to grow rapidly. It has the appearance of a lump, reddish or blue-black.
Researchers don’t know exactly how melanoma forms, but genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds increases the risk of developing melanoma.
What are the risk factors for melanoma?
Risk factors that can cause melanoma include:
- Personal or family history of melanoma, as melanoma can be hereditary
- they had cancer breast or thyroid
- Having fair skin, blond or red hair, freckles or blue eyes
- Extensive sun exposure, including sunburn
- Use of tanning beds
- Having many moles on the body, especially if they are large and have irregularly shaped borders
- Having a weak immune system
- Be over 50 years old
Race also plays a role in risk factors. White people have an increased risk of melanoma than colored ones because they have less protective melanin in their lighter skin. However, people of color have more chance to die of the disease because they often develop melanoma in parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun and it takes longer to be diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
Melanoma most often occurs on the back, arms, legs and face. It can also appear on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the nail bed (connective tissue joining the nail and toe), inside the mouth and on the genitals, particularly in people with darker skin.
The first stage of melanoma usually first appears as a new mole with a bumpy border that grows rapidly or as a change in an existing mole. Most melanomas are new nevi instead of existing nevi. You may also notice unusual growth or pigmented areas that weren’t there before. For the warning signs of melanoma, go with the system ABCDE:
- Asymmetrical – Lunar or irregularly shaped spots
- Border: The border or outline of the area is rough or uneven
- Color – There is a color inequality
- Diameter – A mole or spot larger than the size of a pea
- Evolution – A mole or defect that has changed in the last few weeks or months
How is melanoma diagnosed?
If a mole or spot looks suspicious, your doctor (HCP), often a dermatologist who specializes in skin conditions, will order a biopsy. A biopsy is when a small part of the affected area is removed and studied under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, your doctor may want to find out the stage of the cancer and determine whether it has metastasized or spread.
For a deeper tumor, imaging tests that help the doctor determine the stage of the tumor, such as CT scans, MRI scans, or positron emission tomography (PET) scans, may be used.
- phase 0: Also known as melanoma in situ, the cancer is found only in the epidermis (the outer layer of skin)
- Phase 1: The cancer has not spread to other areas and can be treated with surgery
- Phase 2: The cancer has not spread, but there is a greater likelihood that it will return
- phase 3: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or in the skin
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, skin, or other organs
What are the treatment options for melanoma?
Surgery to remove melanoma tends to be the most successful treatment. In the early stages of cancer, your doctor will remove the cancerous area and surrounding skin. A lymphadenectomy It is a surgery that can also be performed if lymph nodes need to be removed.
Chemotherapy can be used to kill remaining cancer cells, but more often the doctor may apply immunotherapy or targeted therapy instead. Immunotherapy uses the immune system to kill cancer cells and can be used in addition to surgery. In targeted therapy, some drugs kill cancer cells and shrink the cancer.
could also be used radiotherapy to kill cancer cells and stop new cancer cells from growing.
Can melanoma be prevented?
Some cases of melanoma can be prevented. Steps you can take to prevent melanoma to include:
- Avoid exposure to the sun during the most intense hours of the day, generally between 10:00 and 16:00, even in the presence of clouds.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, year-round, and be sure to apply it every two hours.
- Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.
- Make sure your skin is covered with protective gear when you’re outside, and wear a hat with a brim.
- Do not use tanning beds.
- Inspect your skin regularly and check for new moles or any that have changed in appearance.
Talk to your doctor if you notice anything suspicious about your skin, and consider seeing a dermatologist for regular skin evaluations. And try not to panic if there is something worrying. Not all moles or suspicious spots are cancerous, so practice the ABCDE system.
This resource was created with support from Merck.
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