What is melanoma
Melanoma is usually, but not always, a cancer of the skin. It begins in melanocytes – the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colors the skin, hair and eyes. Melanocytes also form moles, where melanoma often develops. Having moles can be a risk factor for melanoma, but it’s important to remember that most moles do not become melanoma.
When melanocytes, the cells which are responsible for giving skin and hair their unique color becomes malignant, it leads to melanoma. One of the common forms of cancer, melanoma not only affects the skin (cutaneous melanoma); it can affect the eyes known as intraocular or ocular melanoma, the lymph nodes, meninges or even the digestive tract. In short melanoma can occur on any part of the body which has melanocytes.
Melanoma affects people of all ages. However with advancing age the threat of melanoma increases. Research has revealed that melanoma in men is commonly found on the hips, neck, head and the shoulder. In women the regions where melanoma strikes first are the lower legs. White skinned people are twice as likely to suffer from melanoma as compared to dark skinned people.
Often an innocuous looking mole suddenly changes appearance and become malignant. The four common types of melanomas are nodular melanoma, superficial spreading melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma, nodular melanoma and lentigo maligna melanoma.
Affecting people of Caucasian background, superficial spreading melanoma is the commonest type of melanoma. Appearing in different shades of black or brown, this melanoma can be recognized by its irregular shape and color. People of African American descent are generally affected by acral lentiginous melanoma which appears under the nails, on the soles and, the palms.
Lentigo maligna melanoma is normally seen in the older generation. The affected regions of the skin appear either brown or tan in color and are normally large and flat. Lentigo maligna melanoma affects the arms, neck and the face. A raised bump with bluish black appearance can turn out to be nodular melanoma.
The risk of melanoma increases with sun exposure and affects fair skinned individuals with green or blue eyes and blond or red hair. The risk of melanoma rises significantly for people living in high altitudes and extremely sunny climes. Individuals who suffered from blistering sunburns in their childhood or those who have a family history of melanoma are twice as likely to suffer from skin cancer.
People who are exposed to chemicals like coal tar, arsenic or creosote at their work-place and those who use tanning devices excessively fall into the high risk category for melanoma. People whose immune systems have been weakened as a result of leukaemia or AIDS are likely candidates for melanoma.
If there is a change in shape, color, size or feel of a mole on any part of the body it is advisable to consult a doctor. The main symptoms to watch out for are if a mole becomes asymmetrical in shape, the borders of the mole becomes ragged, the mole changes a red, pink, blue gray or brown color and the diameter of the moles increases significantly.
Chemotherapy, radiation treatment and medications are the best ways to treat melanomas.