One day you notice that the mole on your hand is feeling itchy. After a few days, you notice that it has grown in size. Few days later the mole becomes irregular in shape, color has changed, and it has started to bleed. If you have faced such a problem, you must not delay going to the dermatologist (Skin specialist) as the symptoms indicate skin cancer known as melanoma.

About Melanoma

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer and it also known as malignant melanoma. When melanoma spreads to other places in the body then it is called as metastatic melanoma. Skin gets its color from a pigment known as melanin that is produced from cells of skin known as melanocytes. The cancer that forms in these melanocytes is a serious type of skin cancer known as Melanoma.

Cancer is a condition in which certain cells multiply abnormally and clump together to form tumors. If these tumors turn out to be malignant or harmful, the cancerous cells from these tumors metastasize or spread to different parts of the body forming new tumors there.

According to the estimate of the American Cancer Society, 120,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in a year in the United States alone

Melanomas generally occur where the skin is exposed to sunlight like face, arms, legs, and back. They can also however occur in areas that are hidden from sunlight like the palms, eyes, soles of feet and finger nail beds.

A few melanoma symptoms are:

  • Change in a mole that is already existing and unusual growth on skin
  • Irregular shape
  • Scalloped borders
  • Changes in color of mole
  • Diameter of mole is more than 6 millimeters
  • Itching
  • Bleeding from mole
  • Scaly skin
  • Pigment of mole spreading to neighboring areas

The melanin pigment protects the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. If you are fair skinned you have less melanin in the skin making you susceptible to harmful rays of the sun. This is a risk factor for melanoma.

You are also at risk if you have a freckled skin, you sunburn easily or if you have light colored eyes, red or blonde hair.

People who live close to the equator are at high risk as they are exposed more to the harmful Ultraviolet rays from the sun than people living in other areas.

Having many number of moles on the skin and unusually large moles that are more than 5 millimeters in diameter can give rise to melanomas.

The other risk factors are family history of melanoma and people with conditions like AIDS in whom the immune system is weak.

The American Academy of Dermatology has given the A-B-C-D-E guide to indicate melanomas.

  1. represents shape that is asymmetrical. Moles have irregular shapes and both halves of moles have different shapes.
  2. represents borders that are not regular. The borders of the moles are scalloped or notched.
  3. represents color change. The moles have uneven color distribution or have many colors.
  4. represents diameter. The diameter of the mole is larger than 6 millimeters or ¼ inch.
  5. represents evolving. The mole will grow in size, change color and evolve to show signs like bleeding and itching.

If the melanoma is detected at an early stage, then the melanoma treatment is that it can be surgically removed along with a little portion of normal skin surrounding it and also a little portion of tissue beneath it so that all the cancerous cells are removed.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body then the affected lymph nodes are surgically removed.

Chemotherapy is given to kill cancer cells in which chemical drugs are given orally or intravenously (through vein).

Radiation therapy is also given in which X rays of high power are used to destroy cancer cells and reduce symptoms of melanoma.

Another therapy known as immunotherapy or biological therapy is administered by which the immune system is strengthened to fight cancer cells.

The survival rate varies with the stage of melanomas. The five year survival rate of localized melanoma is 99%, whereas advanced stage melanomas have a survival rate of less than 50%.

To prevent melanoma follow the below mentioned points,

  • You should reduce your skin exposure to sunlight.
  • Sunlight between 10 am to 4 pm should be avoided as it is very strong at this time.
  • Prefer to stay in areas that are shaded when you go outside and remember to wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face, ears, and shoulders from direct sunlight.
  • You can protect your arms by wearing shirt with long sleeves and protect your legs by wearing long pants.
  • Use of sunscreen lotion with sun protection factor (SPF) is a must when you go out.
  • Apply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours especially when you are at the beach or swimming.
  • Tanning beds have to be avoided as they emit harmful ultraviolet radiation.
  • A good pair of sunglasses that protect the eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun is a must as melanoma can also occur at the back of the eye also.
  • For children 6 months and below, you must apply sunscreen daily.