Skin cancer—or melanoma—is one of the most serious types of cancers of the body. According to experts like a Dermatologist in Karachi, ultraviolet (UV) exposure is considered to play a major role in the development of this cancer, however, no exact cause is known yet. Read on to know more about this type of cancer, its symptoms, diagnosis and risk factors:
What is malignant melanoma?
Melanoma is the tumor of the skin cells that give color to the skin—known as the melanocytes. These cells are found in the deeper layers of the epidermis of skin, and play a role in the protection of skin against the harmful UV rays of the sun. Since the melanocytes produce brown or black pigment, most of these tumors are dark in color. Occasionally, these melanomas are pink or white in appearance.
These melanomas can start anywhere on the body, but the common site for malignant melanoma includes: legs in women and trunk in men. The other common sites are the face and neck.
In comparison to other tumors of the skin, melanoma is less common, but with its high rate of spread, it is more dangerous with high mortality rate.
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
In the early phase of disease, melanoma does not produce noticeable symptoms. Later, it can appear as:
- An unusual looking growth on the skin
- Development of a new pigment on skin
- Change in the existing mole
Normally, the moles on the skin are uniform in appearance and color, with a distinct border. These moles start in the childhood and stop growing around the age of 40 years. The moles of melanoma, on the other hand, have an asymmetric shape and irregular borders. These borders can be scalloped or notched, with uneven color distribution.
How is melanoma diagnosed?
The diagnosis of melanoma includes biopsy of the skin. If there is a mole that looks suspicious, your healthcare provider will take a sample of the involved tissue and look at it under the microscope to check for melanoma.
Following diagnosis, the next step is to stage the cancer and look for its spread. The diagnosis and staging is thus done through blood work, CT scan, MRI scan, and PET scan.
What are the risk factors of melanoma?
The risk factors of melanomas include:
- Fair skin: in comparison to dark skinned individuals, the risk of melanoma is greater in people with fair skin. This is because melanin plays a role in protection against UV radiation, and fair skinned people have less of this pigment in their skin. Even though the risk is higher in fair skinned people, melanoma can also develop in people with darker complexion.
- Unusual moles: irregular and unusual moles can herald the development of melanoma. Having more than 50 ordinary moles on the body indicates a higher risk of melanoma.
- Family history: as with any type of abnormality, the risk is increased with positive family history. Positive family history means disease in the immediate family—such as parent, sibling or child—or in the close blood relative—like first cousin.
- History of sunburn: presence of severe, blistering sunburns can increase the risk of melanoma.
- Excessive exposure to sunlight: UV radiation from any source—including the sun and the tanning beds—can increase the risk of cancer.
- Living close to the equator: people who live at the equator have higher exposure to the direct rays of the sun, as do people who live in the mountains and higher elevations.
- Weakened immune system: the immune system of the body is responsible for maintaining the defense of the body against unusual growths, including cancer. However, if the immune system is weak, these cells can grow at an uncontrolled rate with higher chances of malignancy.
Once melanoma is diagnosed by experts like a Skin doctor in Lahore, they will devise a treatment plan involving resection of the mole, and chemoradiotherapy.