There are many growths that appear on the skin including skin cancer, but not all skin cancer is the dreaded Melanoma cancer. Melanomas affect the skin cells called melanocytes, which produce our skin pigment and hair color. Only 3 percent of skin cancers are Melanomas. Melanomas can occur in other parts of the body including the vagina, anus, urinary tract, small intestine, and eye. These locations are somewhat rare. Melanomas cause nearly 9,000 deaths per year. If caught early, they have a high cure rate but the death rate goes up to 15% if not treated early. Melanomas are the most common cancer found in young people from 24 to 40 years of age. They are also common in the elderly, especially in those individuals who spent most of their job outdoors. Carpenters and construction workers often work for years out in the sun and often don’t protect their face and head. Men in general tend to be less careful about using sunscreen and head protection.
Melanoma Risk Factors:
Heredity: If you have a parent or sibling with melanoma, your risk increases by 50%. Even though African Americans don’t often get Melanoma skin cancer, when they do, it is often missed. This can lead to a more serious problem because early detection is the key to saving lives. Melanomas raise the risk for breast cancer as well. When cancer is found in one part of the body, it can spread through the lymph system to other parts of the body as well.
Skin Color: If you are blond, red haired, and light skinned, you have a higher risk for developing Melanoma skin cancer.
Exposure to Sun: Individuals who are dedicated sunbathers and frequent tanning salons are at greater risk. If you were sunburned severely as a child, your skin is more likely to develop a melanoma.
Chemical Exposure: Exposure to arsenic, coal tar, and creosote increase your risk.
Immune System Weakness: Those with AIDS, leukemia, organ transplants, and taking RA medications are more prone to Melanomas.
Birthmarks: If you have atypical dysplastic moles or multiple birthmarks, you may be at greater risk for developing Melanomas.
What differentiates Melanoma from other skin cancers?
Color: Melanomas are often either brown or black, though they can be other colors. They can appear on any part of the body. With darker skin, they are most commonly found on less-pigmented areas such as palms, nail beds, or soles of the feet.
Shape: The two sides of the mole are not alike and have ragged edges. They are usually larger than a pencil eraser. See your doctor, if a mole begins to hurt, bleed, or change size, color, shape, or thickness.
Treatment: If located on the surface of the skin, the doctor may be able to cut it out surgically. If the mole is deeper than 1 CC, your doctor may choose to biopsy the area to determine if it has spread to the lymph glands in the area. If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy or radiation may be given. Plastic surgery may be needed if they must cut a large area out. There are clinical trials you might want to investigate if you are diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer. New therapies include Immunotherapy.
Prevention: Prevention is the most important step. Wear head and neck protection at all times. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Wear a quality sun screen product when exposed to the sun and reapply frequently. Keep watch for new growths and moles that change color, shape or size. If you do find a problem, see a doctor to have the growth diagnosed early to avoid deep disfiguring surgery. When in doubt, see your doctor.