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Our skin is the biggest organ of our body. It protects the body from injury, infection, heat, keeps the internal body safe and most importantly protects us from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. The UV rays from the sun are harmful as they cause cancer.

The skin is made up of 2 layers. The epidermis makes up the top layer, the second layer is the dermis. The sweat gland, blood vessels and nerves are present in the dermis. Three types of cells make up the epidermis.

These include:

  • The thin, flat cells on the surface of the skin, the squamous cells
  • The continually created basal cells that are keep pushing the older cells towards the surface
  • Deeply situated, present in between the basal cells, are the melanocytes. These cells make melanin that gives color to the skin. When exposed to sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin. This darkens the skin more than normal. When melanocytes form a cluster, they appear as moles on the skin.

The cancer of the melanocytes is called as melanoma. We shall learn about this dangerous cancer in the following paragraphs.

What is Melanoma?

The cancer of the skin is called as melanoma. There are different types of skin cancers like the squamous cell skin cancer, basal cell skin cancer and melanoma. Melanoma is not detected early, proves to be more dangerous than any other skin cancer. It is seen that melanoma is less commonthan the other two types of skin cancers. Melanoma can occur anywhere in the body, where there are melanocytes. This includes the eyes, mouth, vagina as well as under the fingernails. However, these types of melanomas are very, very rare.

Types of Melanoma

Melanomas are categorized in the following ways:

Cutaneous melanoma: This cancer occurs on the skin and is the most common type of all melanomas.There are four types of cutaneous melanomas:

Superficial spreading melanoma: Most common type that begins as a brown or black spot. This keeps spreading across the epidermis and turns dangerous when it spreads down to the dermis.

Nodular melanoma: This is second most common melanoma where one observes raised brown or black color bumps on skin. However, in some cases, the nodes turn pink, red or colorless.

Acrallentiginous melanoma: A rare type of cancer occurs on the palms, soles, or under the fingernails and toenails.

Lentigomaligna melanoma: This form is seen mostly in older people. It appears as a large freckle on the face, ears, neck or head. It grows over the years and penetrates deep within the skin.

Mucosal melanoma: This cancer occurs in the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, mouth, throat, vagina or anus. It is a very rare type of melanoma.

Ocular melanoma: Also called as uveal melanoma or choroidal melanoma, it occurs in the eye. This is also a rare cancer.

Metastatic melanoma: This is secondary cancer that has spread from other cancer stricken organ to the skin.

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Symptoms of Melanoma

The symptoms may vary person to person. However, any odd looking or growing spot, bump or mole needs doctor’s attention. Other than this, the symptoms include:

  • Changes on the skin, like a new spot, change in color, change in shape, color, size of spot or mole
  • A spot, mole or sore that turns painful, itchy, bleeds or becomes tender
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Spot or lump that appears waxy, smooth, pale or shiny
  • A firm red lump that turns ulcerated, crusty or bleeds
  • A red spot that is flat, rough, dry or scaly
  • Changes in vision that may indicate eye melanoma
  • Brown or black discoloration under the nail that appears as bruise indicates subungual melanoma.

Causes of Melanoma

Changes in the DNA are the main cause of cancers. When the skin DNA is damaged by exposure to UV rays, it can lead to skin cancer. In some cases, a genetic factor is linked to susceptibility to melanoma. Exposure to UV radiation, that is, the use of tanning beds increases risk of melanoma in people under the age of 30 by 75%.

Diagnosis of Melanoma

A complete head to toe examination will be conducted when diagnosing early stage melanoma. The doctor during the examination will ask the patient if they have observed any changes in the spots or moles. These changes include the ABCDEs of cancer, that is:

  • Asymmetrical shape
  • Border of the spot or lesion irregular
  • Color: more than one color
  • Diameter changes
  • Enlarging or evolving over time

The doctor will further ask about a family history of skin cancer as well as exposure to sun, etc. A biopsy of a particular mole, spot or lesion will be conducted, that includes:

  • Punch biopsy
  • Excisional biopsy
  • Incisional biopsy

Treatment for Melanoma

Once melanoma is diagnosed,the doctor will speak to the patient regarding the treatments available depending on the stage of the cancer. The melanoma treatment options include:

  • Surgerical removal of a localized tumor along with some of the normal skin, called the margin. This ensures all cancer cells are removed from the site. Depending on the amount of skin removed, one may have to undergo a skin graft.
  • Immunotherapy by use of a drug called ipilimumab that activates the immune system.
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy where drugs that target abnormal tumor cells are used

Prevention of Melanoma

Melanoma can be prevented by taking some precautions. These include:

  • Avoid going out in the midday sun
  • Wear sunscreen all year round
  • Wear gloves, scarfs, hats, eye glasses, etc. to protect the exposed skin and eyes under the sun.
  • Avoid use of tanning beds
  • Make sure you remain aware of all the changes occurring on your skin

Prognosis for Melanoma

Melanoma has better chances of cure if it is detected in the early stages. This includes complete removal of the melanoma when it is small and thin. However, melanoma can reoccur and requires one to stay alert regarding any new changes or appearances of spots, lesions or moles.

This is all about melanoma and its related facts. Speak to an expert skin cancer specialists for more details regarding this dangerous form of skin cancer.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 30, 2015

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