Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It involves cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanoma can also involve the colored part of the eye. A typical melanoma starts as a small dark patch on the skin.

It starts, like most cancers do, as an uncontrollable dividing cell, in that case, the melanocyte, that is overlooked by our immune system, a mishap occurring most likely due to a genetic mutation that makes this abnormal growth go unnoticed for a while.

Melanocyte is the cell giving our skin its color and protecting us from UV UVA radiation, but also the one that multiplies itself uncontrollably in melanoma. It can happen at any age but mostly in young adults; it has a higher occurrence on mid-20 to late 30’s, an age that most people are actively living their life, most of them carefree of sun damage. It’s alarming: in the given condition of our planet, solar radiation is increasing and, although epidemiology still corroborates that most cases happen in equatorial countries, the number of cases in Europe is on the rise.
Melanoma was once considered rare cancer in most developed countries but its incidence has risen faster than any other type of cancer since the 50’s. It’s the sixth most common cause of cancer in the United States. Prevention and monitoring are still the best treatment for skin cancer; if someone in your family has or had any sort of skin cancer, tell your doctors. If you’re not sure, get tested. Genetic testing gives you an advanced state of foresight; knowing your genetic background empowers you and creates awareness to change lifestyle and exposure to other predisposing factors.

Melanoma is more common among people with fair skin. The risk factors are long-term exposure to strong sunlight, use of tanning devices, one or more blistering sunburns during childhood, and the presence of certain types of moles or multiple birthmarks. Most cases of stage one melanoma are cured with a minor surgical operation to remove the tumor. If the melanoma has spread beyond the skin, it is usually not curable.

How to diagnose Melanoma?

If you suspect you may have Melanoma, consult with your doctor immediately.

There are a few steps you can take in order to help you check if you may have early signs of Melanoma:

  • Get a full frontal mirror
  • A hand mirror
  • Spacious and light area
  • Chairs or stools

Search for any uneven colored bumps, irregular moles dark or light colored. Start with your head, scalp, neck area. Then slowly check your torso and chest area, as well as your back. Going through all parts of the body.

Melanoma is often different from a mole in one or more of the following ways (summed up as ABCDE):

  • Asymmetry – the shape is uneven.
  • Border – the border or edges are uneven.
  • Color – the color is not uniform.
  • Diameter – the size is usually larger than 6 mm.
  • Evolving – any change in size, shape, color, elevation, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching, or crusting may be due to melanoma. Some melanomas are not typical in how they look.

How to prevent melanoma

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. It should be done often enough to become a habit, but not so often as to feel like a bother. For most people, once a month is ideal, but ask your doctor if you should do more frequent checks.

Still have questions?