What is Melanoma?

Melanoma represent a form of cancer that usually forms on the skin, but occasionally manifests in the eyes or mucous membranes instead. People with any skin tone can develop these tumors, but fair skinned individuals who get a lot of sun damage over the years are at the highest risk for cutaneous melanoma.

Family history also plays a large role in susceptibility to melanoma together with excessive sun exposure, having many moles and living closer to the equator or at high altitudes (where UV light is more aggressive.)

What are the Symptoms of Melanoma?

Checking your skin regularly allows you to catch unusual symptoms early, leading to prompt treatment of cancer before it spreads.

Cutaneous melanoma causes symptoms like:
  • New moles or blemishes that grow rapidly, feature a blurred or uneven edge, and have a multicolored appearance
  • Movement of skin pigments outside of the edges of existing moles or marks
  • Itchiness or pain in a new or existing growth
  • Bleeding, discharge, or large patches of skin flaking off of an area of skin.

Moles and other blemishes that indicate skin cancer can develop on your scalp and remain hidden by your hair, so thoroughness during a monthly skin self-exam is essential. For melanoma of the eye, symptoms include color changes, double vision, painful or red eyes, and bulging sensations. Mole-like growths in your mucous membranes may be a form of melanoma as well.

Melanoma Causes

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Melanomas begin when cells in the skin begin to divide abnormally forming a growth or a tumor. This area may then metastasize to other areas of the skin or to other organs.

Doctors are very certain that the leading cause of melanoma is exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or from artificial sources, e.g. tanning beds. UV rays damage the skin and may cause the cells to begin to divide too quickly.

Melanomas do develop in areas that normally receive little or no sun exposure, so UV radiation is not the only cause of this cancer. Sometimes, a melanoma may develop from an existing mole. As to why this occurs, doctors are uncertain. A mole may be damaged or injured in some manner, leading to abnormal cell growth.

There may be a genetic factor involved in the development of melanoma. Those with a family history of this cancer have a high risk of melanoma.

A weakened immune system is another possible cause of melanoma. Those who take immunosuppressant drugs seem to develop melanomas at a much higher rate than average.

How is Melanoma Treated?

As with many other forms of cancer, surgery is a primary choice for removing the affected skin.

Radiation is preferred for eye melanomas, but in severe cases the entire eye is removed to prevent the cancer from spreading to the rest of the body. Laser therapy also works for destroying cancer cells while leaving as much of your eye intact as possible. Immunotherapy is also used for advanced cases of melanoma, along with systemic and regional chemotherapy.

Melanoma Prevention

The best way to prevent an occurrence of melanoma is to protect the skin from the effects of UV radiation. If going out in the sun for any length of time, it is best to cover up exposed skin. At the least, a sunblock with an SPF of 15 should be applied. Reapply throughout the day if outside for an extended period.

If a person has many moles or moles that are particularly large, it is important to have these moles checked by a doctor at least once a year. This may be done during the time of one’s annual physical. Melanomas that are detected in the early stages are much easier to remove and treat.