A type of cancer that forms in the melanocyte cells, which are the cells that form the melanin or pigment of the skin. Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers, but is the most serious type of skin cancer. Like other skin cancers, it is often curable in the early stages. It can occur anywhere on the skin, but most likely occurs in the trunk of men and the legs of women. The face and neck are also common sites. Melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.
Risk Factors May Include:
- UV light exposure-natural and artificial and a history of severe sunburns
- Moles-excessive number of normal moles (over 50) and large number of atypical moles (dysplastic nevi)
- Fair Skin-occurs more often in people with fair skin, freckles and light hair
- Family History-10% of all people diagnosed have a family history
- Immune Suppression-a weakened immune system due to other factors
- Age-the most common cancer in people younger than 30, but more likely to occur in older populations
- Sex-Men have a higher incidence
- History of Melanoma-people who have had melanoma are at greater risk for a second diagnosis
- Xeroderma Pigmentosum-a rare inherited genetic condition that prevents the skin from repairing
For more information on risk factors see the American Cancer Society site.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that in the U.S. in 2008 there will be 62,480 new cases of melanoma and 8,420 melanoma deaths.
Prevention can be as simple as understanding the UV light index for your area, limiting UV exposure, wearing sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen. Mole inspection and removal is another important facet of the prevention of melanoma.
The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) provides an easy website, as part of their SunWise Program to determine the UV index for your area of the U.S. so you can take preventative measures to regulate your exposure.
Cancer Research UK, provides links to the UV index for different parts of the UK and Europe.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
The ABCD rule is often taught to teach the public to assess moles.
A-Asymmetry. Divided in half, do both sides of your mole look the same?
B-Border. Are the borders or edges of your mole irregular?
C-Color. Is your mole different colors?
D-Diameter. Is your mole larger than 6 mm? (the end of an eraser)
It is important to remember that this doesn’t cover all mole issues. Any change in the appearance of a mole, including sensitivity, a skin lesion that doesn’t heal, or any other skin changes should be reported to your physician.
Diagnosis for melanoma will begin with a physical and then proceed to a biopsy. A CT may be indicated after your biopsy to check for metastasis. The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging system for melanoma was updated and is available on their website or at the American Cancer Society site.
Treatment of melanoma may include removal of the mole, chemotherapy, radiation or biotherapy. Treatment is wholly individual and depends on you and the staging of your melanoma. Stage 0 melanoma has not spread past the epidermis and may only require removal of the melanoma and application of a topical cream.
Early detection is the key.
More information on treatment options, including information on clinical trials can be found at the Mayo Clinic site.
A final note: As part of May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and Olay has teamed up to offer free screenings with a dermatologic surgeon for you and a friend. The initiative, Skin Cancer Takes Friends can be seen in magazine ads (such as MORE magazine), and features actress Marcia Cross. For more details see the website.
Sun Protective Clothing, a company created by a melanoma survivor.
Coolibar provides sun protective clothing with a 50+UPF.
Solar Eclipse Sun Protective Clothing, started by the spouse of a melanoma survivor.
Support and Further Information:
The Melanoma Patient’s Information Page, a site packed with information, resources and latest news. “Providing the support and information you need to be a proactive participant in your treatment decisions.”
The American Melanoma Foundation, a support, education, and advocacy organization ” intent on reducing the incidence of this deadly, but preventable disease.”
Melanoma Support and Education Foundation, an organization “created to provide support and education to the melanoma community, inform the public on the prevention of melanoma and promote sun safe habits.”
Melanoma Source, your source for melanoma information.
Skin Cancer by Keyvan Nouri (2007)
Understanding Melanoma: What You Need to Know by Perry Robbins (2006)
What You Really Need to Know About Moles and Melanoma by Jill R. Schofield and William A. Robinson (2000)