Much is discussed in the press about skin cancer, its causes and why rates seem to be increasing year on year. It seems that our fascination with having a suntan year round and the increasing use of sun beds is contributing to this rise. Melanoma is just the scientific name for parts of the skin which have started to develop into cancerous cells.
There are several different forms of melanoma, but all can be treated and completely cured if caught often enough. It is important for everyone, especially people with fair skin and lots of moles, to be aware of what melanoma is and what it can look like so as to be able to seek prompt medical attention if necessary. It also goes without saying that fair skinned people should always use a high level sunscreen and avoid the use of sunbeds.
A thin melanoma is the very early stages of skin cancer. The melanoma is only present in the top layers of skin, and hasn’t spread any deeper. At this stage the melanoma can be very tiny, measuring less than 1 mm in diameter. Melanomas are caused by skin cells starting to divide and grow much more quickly than usual, forming a brown spot on the skin. This brown spot is often mistaken for a mole, so if new moles appear on your body where they haven’t been seen previously, it is important to have it checked out by a specialist doctor. Developing melanoma is strongly related to UV exposure to sunlight and this is why sun safety is so important for people with fair skins who are at greater risk of developing skin cancer. People with dark skins are less likely to develop melanoma as they have more natural protection to UV rays.
The best method of ensuring that melanoma is detected early is to be familiar with your skin and moles and check them every few weeks for signs of changes, especially if you are fair skinned, have been exposed to natural sunlight or have been sunburned, or if you are a regular user of sunbeds. Any changes which are detected should be reported to your doctor, who will be able to do further checks and examinations to see whether or not there is any issue.
A larger melanoma is classed as anything over 1 mm in diameter. A larger melanoma can sometimes be mistaken for a mole and there are several tests that a doctor will perform to see whether or not there are cancerous changes taking place on the skin. If melanoma is suspected, immediate removal of the mole and the surrounding skin by a surgeon under local anesthetic will be advised. The removed area of skin will then be examined in the lab to determine whether or not it was cancerous. Early removal of melanoma carries a very high success rate and most patients will require no further treatment to cure their cancer. If the melanoma has grown much larger, or if it is suspected that the cancer has traveled to other parts of the body, further treatment may be required.
Advanced melanoma is the later stages of the skin cancer when the melanoma is affecting not just the skin but has spread to other internal organs. At these later stages treating the cancer becomes more complex and the prognosis may not be as positive as when the melanoma is diagnosed at the very early stages. Treatment will comprise of surgery to remove the melanoma, combined with radiotherapy or drug treatments to shrink any secondary tumors.