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Melanoma Overview

Melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer, but generally considered to be the most serious and dangerous. Melanoma generally begins in the skin, but if left untreated, can spread into your lymphatic system, and eventually to other organs such as the lungs, liver, and brain. Luckily, melanoma can be cured if it’s found and treated, and the earlier it is found, the more successful treatment can be. This is why doctors and dermatologists often recommend regular skin checks if you have abnormal looking moles, or a history of Melanoma or skin cancer in your family.

Read more about melanoma and its history

What causes melanoma?

The most common cause of Melanoma is generally considered to be too much sun exposure. There is some debate over whether the problem is the total amount of sun exposure (ex. you always have a sun tan), or if it is the total amount of acute exposure (ex. you often get sun burns). Regardless, the overexposure to the sun causes normal skin cells to mutate and become abnormal (see also Cell Mutations). Normal cells in your body have a life cycle (just like you), and at the end of their life, go through “dying” process (see Cell Apoptosis). However cancer cells that have mutated don’t go through the normal life cycle. Instead, they grow and multiple and do not die off. As they grow, they begin to destroy the other normal cells around them. There are a number of other theories and ideas about what causes Melanoma.

Read more about the causes of melanoma.

What are the symptoms?

The first sign of Melanoma is often a change in a mole, birthmark, or other skin growth. Sometimes you may not have observed this change, especially if you have not been paying careful attention to your skin. In that case, signs of a melanoma or risk of melanoma could be the presence of abnormal or atypical moles. Abnormal moles are those which are lumpy, raised, and rounded.

Read more about melanoma symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

If your doctors observes a growth on your skin they suspect could be melanoma, they will remove a sample of tissue from that area (this is called a melanoma biopsy), and send that sample to be checked. A pathologist will examine the tissue sample under a microscope to check to see if it is cancer. Most of the time the report produced (called a pathology report) is highly accurate. However, sometimes your doctor will request a second pathologist to look at the tissue sample if there is any doubt.

If the pathologist determines that there is cancer, your doctor may order a number of other tests. Melanomas which are small and shallow are often easily removed with a simple surgical process that in most cases will be a complete cure. However, if the melanoma is large, and more importantly, deep, it is more likely to have begun to spread, and your doctor may wish to take a number of diagnostic measures. First, they may decide to check your lymph nodes for melanoma. They may also order one of a number of different scans (PET, CT, MRI, PET/CT) which can help them determine if, how and where the melanoma may have spread.

Read more about how melanoma is diagnosed.

What are the Stages and their prognosis?

The prognosis for melanoma varies significantly depending on the Stage of the cancer. The Stages range from Ia to IVd. If it is caught early, it is highly curable with surgery alone. If it is caught late, once it has already begun to metasta, the prognosis is not as favorable.

It’s important to remember, however, that statistics are only statistics. No matter what your stage or statistical prognosis, always remember that you are a strong and powerful person and you can overcome any challenge that you face, including this one. We provide comprehensive information on melanoma treatment.

Read more about the prognosis of the Stages of melanoma.

How do you prevent Melanoma?

The most commonly accepted cause of melanoma is over-exposure to UV rays, typically from too much sun. Hence, the easiest way to prevent melanoma is to avoid too much sun, and especially to take preventative measures (ie. wear sunscreen) to avoid sun burns.

Because Melanoma has been shown to have a genetic predisposition, it can run in families. Those people with a history of melanoma or other skin cancers, should be especially cautious to avoid over exposure to UV rays.

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