Melanoma is a dangerous type of skin cancer. It is caused by changes in cells known as melanocytes. These cells produce pigment known as melanin. Melanin is provides the hair and the skin with its color. Melanin can appear on normal areas of skin or may start as a mole that has altered in appearance. Some moles present at birth may later form melanomas.
Melanoma is Increasing
The rate of melanoma is increasing and the risk of developing the condition increases with age. Individuals are likely to develop melanoma if they have pale skin, blue or green colored eyes, or red or blond colored hair.
Individuals are also at risk if they reside in sunny climates, have spent time exposed to the sun, have had one or more episodes of blistering sunburn during childhood, and/or have used tanning devices. Other risk factors include a family history of melanoma, coming into contact with chemicals known to cause cancer, possessing certain types of moles, and having a weakened immune system.
A mole, lump, sore, or growth on the skin can indicate the development of melanoma. A sore or growth that changes or bleeds may also indicate skin cancer.
Possible symptoms of melanoma include: asymmetry, when one half of an abnormal area differs from the other half; borders, when the edges of the growth look irregular; color, when the area changes in color; diameter, when the area is larger than 6 mm in its diameter; and evolution, when the mole constantly changes in appearance.
Melanoma: Get a MoleMap
Individuals who recognize anything unusual should consult with their doctor. A doctor will check the skin and investigate the shape, size, color, and texture of any unusual areas of skin. They may record the areas on a mole map (http://www.molemap.co.nz/).
If a doctor thinks that a patient may have moles cancerous, a piece of skin will be taken from the area and sent to the laboratory for microscopic examination. This is known as a skin biopsy. Surgery is usually required to treat melanoma. In the event that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the lymph nodes may require removal.
If caught early, some types of melanoma can be cured. However, melanoma cannot be cured when the cancer spreads beyond the skin.