Melanoma is skin cancer's deadliest form. Up to 7,650 people in the United States die from this disease yearly. Early-stage melanoma is treatable, but it isn't easy to curtail once it has spread to the lymph nodes. Prevention and regular screenings are the keys to surviving this type of cancer.
This article will cover everything you need to know about melanoma, from its causes to prevention and treatment.
The most well-known cause of melanoma is excessive exposure to UV light. This light can come from tanning beds or the sun. However, genetic factors may cause some melanomas.
People with at least one blistering sunburn in their youth are up to twice as likely to get melanoma as adults. For this reason, it is crucial to protect children and teens from the harmful effects of the sun.
People with melanoma often have unusual moles, freckles, or birthmarks on their skin. These moles may come in unexpected shapes and colors. They may have notched or irregular borders. Problem moles may be painful, itchy, or raw.
Who Gets It
Overall, doctors diagnose more men than women with melanoma. Older, non-Hispanic white males are most likely to get melanoma.
However, among people under age 49, melanoma is more common in women. Women must focus on prevention by avoiding tanning beds and always wearing sunscreen.
Even though people of color are less likely to get melanoma, you should continue to check your skin for unusual moles and markings. Sometimes the disease goes unnoticed, and if left alone, it could grow and metastasize.
How to Prevent
The primary way to escape melanoma is to avoid excessive UV light. Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or more at all times. Staying out of the sun at its most potent time (between 10 AM and 4 PM) can also help reduce your risk.
Avoid staying in the sun expressly to get a tan. Natural sunlight is damaging enough. Tanning beds are especially dangerous since they concentrate on the UV light source. Your body has no protection in a tanning bed.
Be aware that you must wear sunscreen in the winter and on cloudy days. The sun also reflects off snow, sand, and other light-colored surfaces to intensify its effects.
Don't forget to wear lip balm with sun protection. The lips are a prime target for melanoma.
Tests & Diagnosis
How is it given?
Everyone should keep watch on their skin, no matter their background. It is best to check for signs of melanoma and other skin cancer types once a month. The basic requirements for a mole that should receive medical attention are:
- Moles that appear after age 30
- Moles that look different from your other markings ("ugly duckling" moles)
- Moles that have become painful or tender
- Moles that itch, bleed, ooze, or scale
Use this tool from the National Cancer Institute to help you recognize problem moles.
If you have moles or other skin markings, you should see a dermatologist once a year. Be especially vigilant if you have had blistering sunburns in the past. Even moles on the body for many years can turn malignant.
Other Names for Treatment
- Early-Stage Melanoma: Doctors note the presence of mole risk factors described above and remove the mole for a biopsy. If the mole shows signs that it is cancerous, the doctor will refer you for treatment.
- Malignant Melanoma: Watch out for moles more prominent than the size of a pencil eraser or darker than other moles on the body. Doctors must check moles of unusual colors or with irregular borders. Some melanomas are colorless.
- Metastatic Melanoma: Doctors test for advanced cancer that has spread. They check the lymph nodes with fine needle aspiration. You may also need further surgery to check your lymph nodes.