Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanoma can occur on any part of the body, but it is most likely to develop in areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and can be fatal if it is not detected early and treated.
Types of melanoma
There are three main types of melanoma: superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, and acral lentiginous melanoma.
- Superficial spreading melanoma: Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma and usually develops on the trunk, legs, or arms.
- Nodular melanoma: Nodular melanoma is less common but more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma: Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common type of melanoma but can be difficult to detect because it often develops on areas of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Signs and symptoms of melanoma
The first sign of melanoma is usually a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one color. The edges are often ragged, and not smooth. The color is often brown with black spots. Melanomas can also appear as new moles.
Other signs and symptoms of melanoma may include:
- Spread of pigment from the border of a mole into the surrounding skin
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain in a mole
Causes of melanoma
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of melanoma. UV radiation can damage the DNA in skin cells and lead to the development of skin cancer. People with fair skin are at a higher risk of developing melanoma because they have less melanin, which gives the skin its color.
Risk factors for melanoma
There are several risk factors for melanoma, including:
- Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources, such as tanning beds
- A family history of melanoma
- A personal history of skin cancer
- Moles or abnormal growths on the skin
- A weakened immune system
Treatment options for melanoma
The treatment for melanoma depends on the stage of cancer. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for melanoma. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around it.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is usually used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a type of chemotherapy that targets specific molecules that are found in cancer cells. This type of therapy is often used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body's immune system to kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy is usually used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.
- Clinical trials: Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments for safety and effectiveness. Clinical trials are an option for people with all stages of melanoma.
Prevention of melanoma
The best way to prevent melanoma is to avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources, such as tanning beds. People with fair skin are at a higher risk of developing melanoma, so it is important for them to take extra precautions to avoid UV radiation.
People can also reduce their risk of melanoma by wearing sunscreen, clothing that covers the skin, and hats. It is also important to avoid sunburns and to check the skin regularly for changes.
While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it can be difficult to detect and is often deadly. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the main cause of melanoma, so it is important to take precautions to avoid exposure to UV radiation. Treatment options for melanoma include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and clinical trials. Prevention of melanoma includes avoiding exposure to UV radiation, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and checking the skin regularly for changes.