What is Melanoma?
The most serious kind of skin cancer, melanoma can be treated successfully if detected early. The risk of developing malignant melanoma is a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and lifestyle backgrounds. It starts, like most cancers do, as an uncontrollable dividing cell, in that case, the melanocyte, that is overlooked by our immune system, a mishap occurring most likely due to a genetic mutation that makes this abnormal growth go unnoticed for a while.
Melanocyte is the cell giving our skin its color and protecting us from UV UVA radiation, but also the one that multiplies itself uncontrollably in melanoma. It can happen at any age but mostly in young adults; it has a higher occurrence on mid-20 to late 30’s, an age that most people are actively living their life, most of them carefree of sun damage. It’s alarming: in the given condition of our planet, solar radiation is increasing and, although epidemiology still corroborates that most cases happen in equatorial countries, the number of cases in Europe is on the rise.
Melanoma was once considered rare cancer in most developed countries but its incidence has risen faster than any other type of cancer since the 50’s. It’s the sixth most common cause of cancer in the United States. Prevention and monitoring are still the best treatment for skin cancer; if someone in your family has or had any sort of skin cancer, tell your doctors. If you’re not sure, get tested. Genetic testing gives you an advanced state of foresight; knowing your genetic background empowers you and creates awareness to change lifestyle and exposure to other predisposing factors.
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Just answer this quizz with 10 simple questions and discover your risk of developing melanoma. It takes less than 2 minutes.
Types of Melanoma
Melanoma has four basic types, three of them begin in situ: it starts at the top layers of the skin and sometimes they become invasive, one of them is invasive from the start, and the severity of those cancers is measured by how deeply it invades your skin.
- Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type, about 70% of all cases. As the name suggests, this melanoma grows along the top layer of the skin for quite some time before penetrating more deeply.
The first sign for superficial spreading melanoma denotes the appearance of a flat or slightly raised discolored patch with irregular borders and a somewhat asymmetrical shape. The color varies as you may see areas of tan, brown, black, red, blue or white. This type of melanoma can occur in a previously benign mole. This melanoma can be found almost anywhere on the body, but it is most likely to occur on the trunk in men, the legs in women, and the upper back in both genders.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma is similar to the superficial spreading type: it’s also closer to the skin surface for a while, and usually appears as a flat or mildly elevated mottled tan, brown or dark brown discoloration. This type of in situ melanoma is found most often in the elderly, arising on chronically sun-exposed, damaged skin on the face, ears, arms and upper trunk. When this cancer becomes invasive, it is referred to as lentigo maligna melanoma.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma also spreads superficially on the skin before penetrating more deeply. It is different from the others, though, as it usually appears as a black or brown discoloration under the nails or on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. This type of melanoma is sometimes found on dark-skinned people, and can often advance more quickly than superficial spreading melanoma and lentigo maligna. It is the most common melanoma in African-Americans and Asians, and the least common among Caucasians.
- Nodular melanoma is usually invasive at the time it is first diagnosed. The malignancy is recognized when it becomes a bump. It is usually black, but occasionally blue, gray, white, brown, tan, red or skin tone. The most frequent locations are the trunk, legs, and arms, mainly of elderly people, as well as the scalp in men. This is the most aggressive of the melanomas, making 10 to 15 percent of the diagnosed cases.
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How to diagnose Melanoma?
If you suspect you may have Melanoma, consult with your doctor immediately.
There are a few steps you can take in order to help you check if you may have early signs of Melanoma:
- Get a full frontal mirror
- A hand mirror
- Spacious and light area
- Chairs or stools
Search for any uneven colored bumps, irregular moles dark or light colored. Start with your head, scalp, neck area. Then slowly check your torso and chest area, as well as your back. Going through all parts of the body.
You can also verify the chance of developing melanoma by using Futura Genetics DNA test kit. It calculates how likely you are to develop this and other conditions based on your DNA.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not sunburn.
- Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. It should be done often enough to become a habit, but not so often as to feel like a bother. For most people, once a month is ideal, but ask your doctor if you should do more frequent checks.