Melanoma

Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancers ( 1-2% of cases) but it is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can spread rapidly.

Macro black birthmark on skin

Melanoma is characterised by uncontrolled growth of melanocytes. These are the cells in our skin that  produce pigment which colour skin, hair and eyes. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

The most common place for melanoma is  on the skin of men’s backs or on women’s legs, however  melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including the head and neck, the skin under the fingernails, and even the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.

Melanoma is treatable if detected early but if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body (metastasises) the prognosis is poor.

  • Melanoma represents 2% of all skin cancers, but causes 75% of skin cancer deaths.
  • Almost 13,000 Australians are expected to have been diagnosed with melanoma in Australia in 2015.
  • Melanoma can spread rapidly and can be life threatening if left untreated.
  • One person every six hours will die from melanoma in Australia.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australian’s aged 15 – 44
  • If diagnosed and treated early melanoma is nearly 100% curable.

 

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Early detection is important in order to start treatment before it metastasizes. Anyone of any skin colour can develop melanoma, though it is more common in fair-skinned people. A history of sunburns during a young age has been shown to increase the risk of developing this extreme form of skin cancer.  Melanoma often has an irregular edge or surface, and it may be blotchy and brown, black, blue, red, white or light grey. Left untreated, a melanoma may spread deeper into the skin where cancer cells can escape and be carried in lymph vessels or blood vessels to other parts of the body.

A common sign of melanoma is a change to the size, shape, or color of a mole, though not all melanomas develop in or near an existing mole. In some cases, a sudden, new growth on the skin can be melanoma.

 

What are the risks factors?

  • Fair skin that burns easily
  • Light hair and light-colored eyes
  • Moles- Particularly if you have 50 to 100 or more and have any unusual or irregular looking moles that are typically larger in size
  • History of sunburns or indoor tanning use
  • Blood relatives who have had melanoma
  • A weak immune system due to disease, organ transplant, or certain medications
  • Previous history of melanoma or another skin cancer
  • 50 years of age or older

Australia  has amongst the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.  1 in 14 for males and 1 in 22 for females will develop melanoma..

 Calculate our risk

 

It’s important to get to know your skin. Examining your skin will help you notice changes and learn what is normal for you. Skin cancers that are found and treated early will need less invasive treatment and have a better outcome.Make it a habit to examine over your skin every 3 months.
Melanoma Risk Calculator

 

 

 

 

 

 

To calculate your risk of developing skin melanoma within the next 5 years click at the above icon or this link here.

 

 

Signs of melanoma

  • A spot that just doesn’t look like any other spot on your body – a so called “ugly duckling”
  • A spot that is changing (in size, shape, colour or texture)
  • A spot that is tender or recurrently bleeds, get crusty or heals then breaks down again
  • A spot that is elevated, firm and growing

Types of melanoma

  1. Superficial spreading melanoma: This is the most common form of melanoma representing roughly 70% of all cases. This type of melanoma undergoes a long radial growth phase prior to invading deeper into the skin, reaching the dermis, and posing a threat of distant spread via the blood stream or lymphatic system. They can develop a vertical growth phase over time. Superficial spreading melanomas are typically characterised by a lesion with irregular borders and uneven pigmentation.
  2. Nodular melanoma: This is the most aggressive form of melanoma as it undergoes no radial growth phase and instead enters a vertical growth phase from the outset. Nodular melanomas have a raised, nodular lesion with irregular patches of colour and an irregular border. About 20% of nodular melanomas may not have any pigment and this can make diagnosis more difficult.
  3. Lentigo maligna melanoma:  the least aggressive melanoma due to its long radial growth phase. Lentigo maligna melanoma is commonly found on older people who have worked in an outdoor occupation. These occur on areas of the body that have received a lot of sun exposure and are therefore most common on the face, ears, neck and head.
  4. Acral lentiginous melanoma:  This type of melanoma is found on the soles of the feet, on the palms or under the fingernails. It is the most common form of melanoma in Asians and black skinned people. it is more aggressive than superficial spreading melanoma and less aggressive than nodular melanoma.

Myths about Melanoma

  • Myth: “When a melanoma is cut out, it’s gone”

It’s important to get melanomas surgically removed early, but preventing a melanoma from occurring in the first place is even more important. After surgical removal of melanoma, regular skin checks are very important. Your doctor will give you an individualised plan on further check ups. Melanoma cells can burrow into the blood stream or lymphatic system and spread. Once they’re circulating around your body they can reappear months or years later – often in the lungs, liver and brain.

  • Myth: “Sunscreen’s all I need”

The use of sunscreen is just one of the five skin protection measures you should use every day. Look on it as an extra form of protection, not your primary sun protection measure and certainly not your only one. Stay in the shade and avoid the sun during peak UV times. Wear protective clothing, a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses. Use a SPF30+ broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen on all areas of exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, and after swimming.Use water resistant sunscreen if you participate in water sports or sweat often.

  • Myth 3: “Solariums are safer”

Using a solarium, sunbed or tanning bed to tan is not any safer than sun tanning.  Solarium can increase your risk of a melanoma because sunbeds also emit UVA and UVB radiation from above and below your body.

  • Myth 4: “I’m healthier with a tan”

You may think you feel or look healthier with a tan but once you understand what is happening to your skin, you’ll think again. Tanning is skin cells in trauma. In response to UV damage, skin cells produce melanin to protect themselves. However, one damaged cell can start a deadly melanoma growing. Too much UV exposure can result in structural damage to your skin – in the short term, burning or scarring and in the long term premature ageing or skin cancer.There’s nothing healthy about a tan.

  • Myth 5: “I need lots of sun to get Vitamin D”

We all need Vitamin D for good health and the main source for Australians is the sun. However, the vast majority of us will get all the Vitamin D we need, not by tanning but just going about our normal daily activities while still protecting our skin in the five ways below.

FURTHER READINGS:

A Guide to Melanoma

Melanoma Patients Australia

Melanoma Research Foundation