Melanoma – Definition, Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

(Cutaneous melanoma, malignant melanoma)

What is Melanoma (Definition)

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It is the least frequent form of skin cancer, but it can be more serious because it is more prone to spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is formed from melanocytes, a type of cells that give the moles a dark color. These cells can be found on the skin, in the eyes, in the digestive system, in the bed of the nails or in the lymph nodes. While melanoma is more common in the skin, it can also appear in these other areas.

The treatment of melanoma depends on how soon it is detected and how it is spread.

Melanoma Causes

Cancer occurs when the cells of the body multiply uncontrollably. Over time, these altered cells can form a neoplasm or a tumor. The term “cancer” refers to malignant tumors. These tumors invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The causes of these problems in the cells are not precise, but it is possible that they are due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Melanoma Risk factors

The most common risk factor for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The most common source of this type of radiation is the sun, but it is also found in sunlamps and tanning chambers.

Melanoma is usually seen in older adults, but it can also appear in young adults. It is more common in people of Caucasian origin. Other factors that may increase the risk of melanoma include:

  • Certain types of moles called nevi dysplastic or atypical moles
  • Large nevi present at birth
  • Clear skin, freckles
  • Red or blond hair
  • Light colored eyes
  • Family members with melanoma
  • Excessive sun exposure without protective clothing or sunscreen
  • Certain occupations, such as people repairing telephones, work in the port or perform electrical installations
  • Weakened immune system

Melanoma Symptoms

Melanomas are usually not painful. At first, people with melanoma usually do not have symptoms.

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, color or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma can also appear as a new, dark, discolored or abnormal mole. Remember that most people have moles. Almost all moles are benign.

The following signs indicate that a mole may be a melanoma (ABCDE criteria):

  1. Asymmetry or irregular shape: one half does not match the shape of the other half.
  2. Irregular edges: uneven, with indentations, poorly defined; The pigment can spread to the surrounding skin.
  3. Heterogeneous color or color variation: the color is irregular with black, brown or tan shades, and even white, gray, pink, red or blue.
  4. Diameter or size: they are usually larger than the rubber of a pencil (6 mm or ¼ inch).
  5. Evolution or change: in general, they enlarge and change shape, color and texture.

Melanoma Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will have a physical examination. The doctor will examine your skin and moles. You may be referred to an ophthalmologist if melanoma of the eye is suspected. You will have a skin biopsy of the area presumably affected. The extracted tissue will be examined under a microscope.

The doctor can also examine the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes that have increased in size may indicate the spread of a melanoma. A sample may also be removed from the lymph nodes for analysis.

Once melanoma is detected, more tests are done to determine the stage of the cancer. Melanoma is classified in stages as well as other types of cancer, from I to IV. The stadium will help determine the treatment.

Melanoma Treatment

Treatment depends on the location and stage of the melanoma. Talk to your doctor to find out what is the best treatment plan for you. Among the treatment options, one or more of the following may be included:

Melanoma Surgery

It will resect melanoma and part of the surrounding healthy tissue. If a considerable piece of tissue is removed, skin from another part of the body will be needed to cover the wound. The lymph nodes near the tumor may also be removed for analysis or to stop the spread of the cancer.

Melanoma Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that kill cancer cells. It is used to treat advanced melanoma. There are many options and your doctor will choose the best ones for you.

Other medications of Melanoma

Immunotherapy is used to treat advanced melanoma and melanoma that presents a high risk of recurrence. Immunotherapy stimulates the body's immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.

Some people have a genetic mutation in the BRAF gene that can cause melanoma to grow and divide rapidly. This mutation in the BRAF gene occurs in almost half of melanomas. There are certain medications that can help the body attack the cells with the mutation in the BRAF gene.

Melanoma Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and reduce the size of tumors. It is usually used in combination with other therapies, but it can be used only for melanoma of the eye.

How to Prevent Melanoma

To reduce the chances of developing melanoma:

  • Avoid spending much time in the sun.
  • Protect your skin from the sun:
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
    • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
    • Avoid exposure during the hours of greatest intensity of the day.
    • Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important. Take the following steps to find a melanoma in early stages:

  1. Consult your doctor if you think you have noticed any change in a mole on the skin.
  2. If you have several moles or a family history of melanoma, check the skin periodically for changes in the moles.
  3. Ask your doctor to show you how to perform a skin self-exam. Perform self-exams to detect if there is a new mole or has changed its appearance.

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