About Melanoma

Melanoma or ‘black tumour’ is a rare and dangerous form of skin cancer that proliferates and spreads fast. Despite its aggressive nature, this cancer is curable if detected early. The five-year survival rate or melanoma life expectancy five years after initial diagnosis is around 93%. Melanoma starts in melanocytes ( the pigmenting-forming cells found deep in the skin). These cells give our skin its colour and protect us from the harmful UV rays from the sun. Though melanoma can occur at any age, it is more common in older people. Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Factors like skin type, hair colour, family history, and moles influence your risk of developing melanoma. In fact, nearly 30% of melanomas begin as moles. Melanoma treatment options depend upon multiple factors, primarily the stage and spread of cancer and the patient’s overall health.

Symptoms

Melanomas can begin anywhere on the skin but usually develop on parts exposed to the sun, such as your hands, neck, back, legs or face. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma may begin in areas of the body that are not exposed to the sun (like soles of the feet). 

Melanoma rarely shows any signs or symptoms in its early stages. However, abnormal skin changes are the earliest and most vital indicators of this cancer. Common symptoms that may prompt you to visit a doctor are:

  • Abnormal changes in an existing mole or a new mole (look for a mole that has an asymmetrical shape, irregular borders, changes in colour, is larger than 6 mm, or one that is constantly growing or evolving in shape and size).
  • A skin sore that refuses to heal.
  • A newly developed pigmented patch on the skin.
  • A spot or patch on the skin that begins to bleed or ooze.
  • An ulcerated spot or area on the skin that is scaly or crusts.

Diagnosis

If you spot any abnormal changes in your skin, you must visit your doctor or dermatologist at the earliest to get it checked out. If your doctor suspects melanoma from your signs and symptoms, they will perform a clinical evaluation of the area. 

Skin biopsy is the standard diagnostic tool for melanoma, during which a small tissue sample is collected from the suspected area on the skin and sent to the laboratory. The skin sample is then analysed to determine the stage of your melanoma. Imaging tests like CT scan, MRI or PET scan may be needed to assess the spread of melanoma to other organs.

Based on your signs, symptoms and diagnostic test results, your doctor and healthcare team will determine how to treat melanoma.

Treatment

Melanoma treatment options depend upon the type of melanoma and its extent of spread. Early-stage melanomas that are small and limited to the skin are treated by surgery. In melanomas that have spread beyond the skin, surgery may involve removing the tumour along with affected lymph nodes. In stage 3 and stage 4 melanoma (advanced stages), treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Each treatment option has its benefits and side effects. So, if you are concerned about the side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy and melanoma, speak to your doctor about it.

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